Classmates reunite to watch old Grand Street School fall

Barbara Hammonds, 56, of Westbury, George K. Turner, Barbara Hammonds, 56, of Westbury, George K. Turner, 59, of the Bronx, and Susan O'Shea, 71, of Westbury, all former students at the Grand Street School, stand outside what is left of the Grand Street School building on Friday, June 20, 2014. The school is set to be demolished on June 30th. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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North Hempstead Town has invited alumni of the old Grand Street School to have one last look at the campus, before it comes up against a bulldozer.

Alumni of the school -- which closed in 1962 and in recent years has been dubbed an eyesore -- expect an emotional reunion when they watch the demolition scheduled to begin Monday.

Town officials hope the structure is replaced by an affordable housing complex for seniors, which they say is key to continuing the hamlet's revitalization.

Originally called the New Cassel School, it became a community center in the late 1970s but has been abandoned for more than 20 years, town and federal officials said.

During a visioning summit in 2002, residents cited a new use for the school site as pivotal for helping revamp the hamlet of 14,000. In recent years, New Cassel has had a $27.1 million community center built, affordable housing created, and a full-service supermarket opened.

But questions have lingered about the vacant school site, where windows and doors are missing, and fences are rusting. It caught fire in April.

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George K. Turner, 59, of the Bronx, who attended the school in the first grade, said he will witness the demolition for "closure; to finally see something positive coming to this property."

Susan O'Shea, 71, of Westbury, plans to be there. Her one year spent at the school was a formative one, she said. "We started in kindergarten to become adults, to become fully formed people," said O'Shea. "We got a good start there."

The Environmental Protection Agency has said the site is contaminated with inorganic contaminants and metals; and last year, federal officials announced that $200,000 was secured for its cleanup through the EPA's Brownfields Program, which helps communities redevelop contaminated properties.

The town plans a reception on Monday at the neighboring Yes We Can Community Center to celebrate the building, but alumni from New Cassel to Florida are already waxing nostalgic.

Many remember it as the New Cassel School.

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A social media posting about the demolition caught the attention of Mark Gillum, 59, an alum in Atlanta, who was raised across the street from the school. He cannot attend the demolition but said he "feels awash in . . . the emotion of losing something that's familiar, that you grew up with; it's like losing an old friend."

Alumni are invited to witness the first strike. Gramercy Group Inc., of Wantagh, plans to demolish the site using a claw-type model. That process is expected to last more than a month.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said, "there are people that have such great memories, so to just unceremoniously take it down as if it never existed, that didn't seem to be in the spirit of the Westbury New Cassel district."

"It's very possible you have people who went to this school who went there as children who will now qualify to be part of the senior housing development," Bosworth said of the school built in 1926. "Talk about a life cycle."

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The School

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Location: 252 Grand St.

Built: 1926

Originally called: The New Cassel School

Funds: $200,000 for cleanup under the EPA's Brownfields Program

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