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Florida Keys News
Monday, May 20, 2013
School's out forever, as doors close for good
Glynn R. Archer Elementary School

The congested halls of Glynn R. Archer Elementary School are even more crowded than usual these days, as boxes of classroom supplies pile up throughout its buildings - and mounds of debris pile up in Dumpsters around the property.

That's because the storied school, in which generations of Key Westers have been educated over the last nine decades, is closing forever this spring; its students are being transferred to the "new" Horace O'Bryant K-8 School, currently being completed on Leon Street.

"It's kind of sad for me," said Henry Boza, who has served as Glynn Archer principal since 2008. "But the kids deserve a new school. We've patched these buildings up as best we could, for as long as we could, and now it's time for us to hand them over to the city, so that they can start the next chapter."

The school, which was constructed between May and September of 1923, began life as the second Key West High School, following the closure of the first one on Simonton Street.

When the "new" Key West High School on Flagler Avenue was built in the mid-1950s, the old building on White Street became the city's junior high school. In November 1976, the school became "Glynn R. Archer Middle School," named for former School Board Chairman Glynn R. Archer, who died in July of that year.

One name change later and the school became Glynn R. Archer Elementary School.

The list of well-known locals with a connection to the school is lengthy.

The late former County Attorney Allan Cleare was among the school's first graduating class in '24.

Famed Miami Dolphins quarterback George Mira once walked the halls, as did current School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths, who often wondered why he was being bussed past "the air-conditioned school," Horace O'Bryant, to the "un-air conditioned one."

"Anybody who's anybody in Key West from the 1920s through the '50s, would have graduated from there," said Monroe County Historian Tom Hambright. "Except for the ladies who went to the convent. Probably Glynn Archer himself went there."

From 4 to 6 p.m. on May 30, a ceremony will be held on the school grounds to mark the 90th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the storied institution.

But then, the school will abruptly cease to exist, as the city of Key West formally takes control and the preparations begin to turn the old building into the headquarters of city government.

Principal Boza, who seems to know each and every student by name, (asking one student how her mosquito sting is healing) still enjoys taking visitors on a tour of the school, actually a complex of buildings erected at different times - and using different grades of concrete.

Besides the 1930s New Deal-era murals which sit in the auditorium, waiting for the promised refurbishment that will come with the forthcoming conversion to City Hall, the school boasts several interesting historical features. A number of large concrete, coin-like "medallions" are affixed to the walls, and speakers for an old public address system, still working, share the walls with new, Promethean "smart boards."

But that's where the charm ends.

Most of the 22 classrooms have been altered over the decades, leaving phantom jambs across the middle of the floors, just waiting for a tripping student - and the inevitable lawsuit that would follow.

The concrete archways above the gym entrance are slowly succumbing to gravity, and dropping chunks onto the ground.

Outside, the school's butterfly garden has been decimated by hungry iguanas, and chickens walk the property unmolested.

Even the stairs, which every student and teacher must use, are onerous and long, designed as they were for a building with such high ceilings, constructed decades before air conditioning was a reality. (As a historic building, an elevator was out of the question, according to the principal.)

"This place smells like my grandmother's house on Grinnell Street," Boza said during a tour of recent science fair projects. "When I go away and come back, that's the first thing that hits me, that wood smell."

As far as academics go, Boza is the first to admit that Glynn Archer's standing, as a "C school" has crumbled along with the rest of the building.

"Part of the reason, besides standardized testing, is that we take autistic children, from as far away as Sugarloaf Key," Boza said. "Plus, we get the kids from the projects. It has an effect on the overall scores."

Still, the students soldier through, taking part in the Newspapers in Education program, and doing their best to be named "Student of the Week."

It's all made easier by the knowledge that they - and many of their teachers - will be moving to a better place, along with some of the jungle-gym equipment, and the school's mascot, a brightly-painted tiger on the front lawn.

Soon, the hallways, which have seen thousands of laughing, playing children over the decades will fall silent, leaving behind only memories, and the "Ghost of Glynn Archer School."

"Like all old buildings with a lot of wood, this place creaks a lot," said Boza, who won't be making the move with kids, and has yet to find out his next assignment. "Oftentimes when nobody's actually opening a door, or walking on the floor. That's what I tell the kids, when they're running in the halls, or whatever. 'Be good...or the ghost of Glynn Archer School will get you!"

tschmida@keysnews.com

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