Dean Kahn

Happy Valley Elementary to celebrate 60th year as demolition nears

Children unwind during recess at Happy Valley Elementary School on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Bellingham. Their 60-year-old school will be demolished this summer to make way for the $19 million replacement building in the background, which will open Aug. 24.
Children unwind during recess at Happy Valley Elementary School on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Bellingham. Their 60-year-old school will be demolished this summer to make way for the $19 million replacement building in the background, which will open Aug. 24.

Happy Valley Elementary School will celebrate its 60th anniversary on Thursday, March 31, but there’s a tinge of sadness to go with the fun.

The school will be demolished once the current school year ends because a $19 million replacement school next door is nearing completion and will house students, staff and teachers when fall classes begin Aug. 24.

Happy Valley was high on the list of Bellingham public schools in poor condition, but that doesn’t ease the pain for families and workers who hold the old southside school close to their hearts.

“We’re all really really excited about the new building, but we’re sad to see this building go,” said Katie Tully, who has taught music at Happy Valley for nine years. “It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to something you love so dearly.”

When Happy Valley opened in November 1956, the school sat close to dairy and horse farms. The area was mostly single-family homes, with modest farms and small businesses scattered about.

The school opened with about 200 students but now has about 430. The school expanded in stages over the years, with heating systems and other fixtures now showing their age.

“We try to make it look good, but underneath, the structure, it needed an overhaul,” said Karen Tolliver, Happy Valley’s principal.

The new school is funded by $160 million in school bonds approved by voters three years ago.

Innovative building

The new Happy Valley building, just east of the current school, was designed with input from teachers, staff and students.

“The new school feels like something we built together,” Tully said.

Each grade level will have a cluster of three classrooms and a shared space where students can work together. A separate “idea lab” will provide space for bigger projects, from robotics to ceramics.

Windows will let students peer in at the building’s plumbing and other systems, and three large monitors will display energy use at the school, along with other information.

“We use the building to teach science and math, how things are put together,” Tolliver said.

Other windows will provide views of hallways and shared spaces.

“It makes it feel really light and bright,” Tolliver said.

Land occupied by the current school will be cleared to provide more outdoor play area for students and better vehicle access for parents.

Honoring the past

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the new school are planned for Aug. 23. Thursday’s celebration is for former Happy Valley students, parents and staff to revisit the school before it’s gone.

Activities will include slide shows about the school and early south Bellingham, a presentation on teaching methods of the 1950s by costumed historian Janet Oakley (complete with her mother’s clip-on earrings), video interviews with alumni, a memory book, and a large photo for alumni to sign. Refreshments will be served.

A few tears might be shed Thursday, because elementary schools foster their own blend of memories, from favorite teachers to the start of lifelong friendships to those old-style circular hand-washing stations with foot-activated faucets.

Tully described Happy Valley as a loving, friendly, helpful school where teachers work hard and cooperate to make good things happen, such as a school musical every other year that involves third- through fifth-graders.

“It’s those kinds of things that make people remember Happy Valley,” she said. “It’s such a community here.”

Missy Ferguson, a support principal at Happy Valley, was principal at Lowell Elementary when it celebrated its centennial two years ago. She taught at Happy Valley for eight years in the 1990s, so she was happy to come out of retirement and help Happy Valley mark its 60th anniversary.

“They have this incredible sense of humor and lightness,” she said. “I consider it a gift coming back here to work this year. It’s like coming home again.”

Tolliver, who taught at Happy Valley for three years before becoming an administrator and principal, said teachers at Happy Valley strive to be a good influence on their students and will continue to do so.

“We really love and care for them when they’re here,” she said. “Even though we’re moving to a new building, we’re still Happy Valley.”

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

Coming up

What: Happy Valley Elementary’s 60th anniversary celebration

When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 31

Where: 1041 24th St.

Activities: “Magic Lantern” slide show about early south Bellingham; costumed presentation about schooling in the 1950s by historian Janet Oakley; albums, photos and other artifacts from the school; large photograph for alumni to sign; memory book; video of alumni interviews; and art, projects and other displays by current students.

Later: Current staff, students and families can attend a barbecue June 3 for a final goodbye to the school. Ribbon-cutting and tours of the new school will be Aug. 23.

More: See “Happy Valley 60 year celebration” on Facebook