In the previous column, I outlined the growth of the East Meadow schools from the Roaring Twenties (with the construction of Newbridge Road School and the addition to Front Street School) through the midcentury era (climaxing with the opening of six school buildings in 1955). During the 1945-1946 school year, there were 467 students enrolled in our two schools. This number represents a fairly average enrollment for the two decades prior to and including the Second World War. Three years later, as the first Levitt homes were built in East Meadow, the number grew significantly to 798. By 1951, when Lakeville Estates was opening, the enrollment ballooned to 2,774. Three years later, when a myriad of housing developments were completed (comprising the vast majority of homes found today in East Meadow), total student enrollment was 10,033. This would only increase through the 1960s as the Greatest Generation parents sought greener pastures for their Baby Boomer children when they became school age.
Here are some interesting statistics about the schools in the district in the 1950s. Keep in mind that the number of students a school could legal and safely accommodate assumed that each classroom had up to thirty children. This number would not be acceptable to most educators today. Every building in the 1950s was designed by architect Frederic P. Wiedersum, who designed more than 500 local schools. Some are modified cookie-cutters; for instance, parts of East Meadow High School, Merrick Avenue Junior High School, and Wantagh High School are nearly identical.
Front Street School (1-8 and then K-8), the subject of several earlier articles, was built in 1911, expanded in 1922, and burned down in 1950, which accelerated the construction of Meadow Lawn School nearby. Newbridge Road School (1-8, then K-8, and finally K-6) was occupied in 1928 and expanded in 1952 and 1954. It was the district's largest elementary school in 1955 and cost $1,327,149 to construct, a cost of almost $20 million today.
Prospect Avenue School (K-6), our district's first "modern" building, was occupied in 1950 and expanded almost immediately in 1951 after the Front Street School burned down. It was expanded again in 1954 and could accommodate 960 children at a construction cost of $1,194,149, equivalent to about $13 million today.
Meadow Lawn (now George H. McVey) School (K-9, then K-6), also the subject of an earlier article, opened in 1951 and was doubled in size the following year. It was built to accommodate up to 960 elementary and secondary students until a high school was completed. The cost was $1,265,000, which is over $12 million today. McVey has one of the fastest-growing school populations today and is the oldest school still used.
Bowling Green School was opened in 1952 for 960 students in kindergarten through grade six. The following year, Bowling Green School No. 2 was built in mirror image for an additional 960 children. The total cost for the two connected buildings was $2,629,722, equivalent to about $25 million today. It is currently the largest elementary school building in the district and has the highest enrollment.
Barnum Woods School (K-6) was occupied in 1954 for 960 students at a cost of $1,327,222, or $12.6 million today. The rear wing was expanded a few years later and a four-classroom extension at that junction was built in the mid-1980s. Its construction, funded largely by the United States government due to children attending from nearby Mitchel Manor, significantly alleviated crowding in the district and was the first school in the 1950s to have single-session classes.
Meadowbrook Elementary School, Parkway School, and Salisbury School (all K-6) opened in 1955 for 600 students each at a cost of $842,298 per school (or $8 million per school today). All three were expanded within a few short years: the front of Meadowbrook School, the side of Parkway School, and the rear of Salisbury School. Salisbury is the district office today and no longer used as a local elementary school.
Three secondary schools opened in 1955 at a total cost of $8,758,212: East Meadow High School (10-12), Meadowbrook (later McCleary) Junior High School (7-9) and Woodland Junior High School (7-9). W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School (7-12) opened in 1957. The secondary schools will be the subject for next week's article.
All in all, the district spent over $20 million in actual 1950s dollars on its modern construction program, which is the equivalent to almost $200 million today. It is easy to imagine how much stress the school board trustees were under to keep budgets in check, finance construction projects through bonds, and hire enough faculty and staff members to keep the district running!
Data for this article were pulled from school district records and a pamphlet kept at the Salisbury Center in addition to articles and architectural drawings. The map was drawn by Phyllis Nelson, who was the art director for the school district in 1955.
© Scott Eckers
Dr. Scott Eckers is the author of East Meadow (in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series). He is a trustee on the East Meadow Board of Education and serves as a teacher and administrator in a nearby school district. He is also an entertainer and recording artist.