NEW MANCHESTER - Touring the newly renovated New Manchester Elementary School on Sunday, former Principal David Stevens marveled at the changes made to a building he knows so well.
"It's beautiful - all the technology and the safety features," Stevens said. "It's going to be a great learning environment for students for many years to come."
Stevens, 71, was principal at New Manchester Elementary for 30 years - from 1970 to 2000. He returned on Sunday for the ceremony to dedicate the school's $5.5 million renovation. Several hundred parents, students, teachers and staff gathered in the gymnasium and watched as Stevens cut the ribbon from a stage that used to double as a classroom.
Stevens, who succeeded his father, Raymond Ogden Stevens, as principal, said he especially liked the new cafeteria. When he was principal, the gymnasium doubled as a cafeteria.
"We had to set up the tables and tear them down every day for breakfast and lunch," he said.
Another former principal, Hancock County Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller, said the added space is a big plus.
"The problem we had before was: It was just too small," he said. "The hardest thing was scheduling 'phys ed' and lunch."
Swartzmiller was principal from 2001 to 2006.
Stevens' history with New Manchester Elementary goes back to when he was a student and the school was a two-room building.
"We didn't have indoor plumbing until I was in the seventh grade," he said.
Stevens also taught at the school from 1964 to 1968.
Sunday's celebration, in addition to being the last word on the school's year-long renovation, gave former students an opportunity to reminisce and view old class pictures. Historical displays were set up in hallways that now gleam with new ceilings, new lighting and new flooring.
Wanda (Glass) Yantz, 79, of New Manchester, attended the school when it was still known as Pughtown School and was located where the New Manchester Volunteer Fire Department currently is. As a first-grader in 1941, she remembers pot-bellied stoves and having to bring water in from a neighboring house.
Her children went on to attend New Manchester Elementary at its current site, where it has been since the 1940s. The current building was completed in the late 1950s and was added to in 1988, according to a printed school history.
Among the school's current students is Lydia DiBiagio, 8, of New Cumberland. A third-grader, Lydia said she especially likes the new cafeteria and the new playground.
On Sunday, after the ceremony, Lydia showed off a classroom project to her father, Tony DiBiagio, of Monaca, Pa., her grandmother, Bonnie DiBiagio, and her brother, Matteo, 13, a student at Oak Glen Middle School.
"I'm very impressed with the progress they made," Bonnie DiBiagio said. "I pick (Lydia) up on Fridays, so I watched it throughout the year."
Lydia's teacher, Pam Manypenny, said the biggest changes made to the classroom were the installation of a dropped ceiling; new lighting; new heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems; and new windows. The old windows were replaced by security windows that do not open, she said.
The renovation project was funded by a $37 million bond levy passed by Hancock County voters in 2010.