May 31, 2019 Celebrations

After 113 years, Hunt Elementary School dismisses classes for final time

Students hold hands while circling Hunt Elementary School to it a
Students hold hands while circling Hunt Elementary School to it a "hug" on the last day of classes at the school. Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal.

Hunt Elementary pupils withstood morning rains Wednesday to give a goodbye hug to their building during a ceremony May 29, 2019. A half hour before the students walked away for the final time, the U.S. flag was lowered to the ground. When the northside Sioux City school opened in 1906, a 45-star flag flew over the building — five future states had not yet entered the Union led by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Over the subsequent 113 years, roughly 20,000 days of instruction took place in the architecturally distinctive Hunt school at 615 20th St., between Jackson and Nebraska streets.

While other Sioux City students end the 2018-19 school year Thursday, Hunt held classes for the last time ever Wednesday. That resulted in a few special events, so students could “Hug Hunt Goodbye,” as they mingled with many teachers wearing gold and black T-shirts that represented the school colors.

“It is always hard to say goodbye to a building in which you have fond memories,” Hunt Principal Camille Barker said.

Inside, boxes labeled with such teachers’ names as Brooks, Juhnke and Jungers were stacked in hallways, the outcome of work over the last few weeks of packing up to leave. In spite of such moves, Barker said a key goal was “to keep a focus on academics, and to provide instruction to the very last day.”

Hunt Elementary is by far the oldest school in the public school system. Once it closes, the oldest district school will be Sunnyside Elementary, which dates to 1957.

Since the late 1990s, school leaders have gradually replaced the roster of aging schools dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The current Hunt will be demolished this summer to make room for a new school with the same name. The new building is under construction just south of the old one in the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Jackson and Nebraska streets. The current site will be used for part of the new L-shaped building and a teacher parking lot.

The $20.5 million project is anticipated for completion in August 2022. Until it’s ready, neighborhood elementary students will attend classes in the former Crescent Park Elementary School. Hunt’s departing fifth graders will move to the North Middle School next fall.

For the last two years, the former Crescent Park school at 114 W. 27th St. has been known as Bryant Elementary. Wednesday also marked the final day of school for Bryant students, who will move this fall to the new Bryant school nearing completion. It was built at the site of the aging Bryant at 821 30th St.

Since plans to close Hunt have been known for a few years, Hunt fifth-grader Kevin Baires learned about it in third grade.

“I was surprised. It was going on for a lot of years,” Baires said, although he guessed the building was at most 50 years old.

It is the only school Baires has attended, and he wasn’t bothered by Hunt being among the final four city public schools without air conditioning. He noticed an interior sculpture was broken, and educators in the building also described the narrow hallways, small rooms and insufficient space in general.

Not all of Hunt will disappear, however. Exterior rosettes, or rose-shaped decorative pieces, and some of the sandstone concrete sections, including the “Hunt” lettering on the south side, will be kept. Such flourishes were common in Midwest schools in the early 1900s.

Fifth-grader Misera Guye said she liked her Hunt schooling over the last two years after moving to Iowa.

“It is really awesome and the kids are so nice to you,” Guye said. “I really want to stay here.”

Barker said a key event in the goodbyes for Hunt came on an April weekend, on which many people, including former students, came for tours and to see old photos.

“We had a lot of community members who came back through and shared memories of what a classroom was before,” Barker said.

View the full article by Bret Hayworth on the Sioux City Journal.