Celebrating "Our School"
Vienna Elementary School gathers for completion of renovation and addition; reflects on 137-year history
In 1872, Vienna Elementary School was a wood frame structure with just two classrooms, facing a dirt road atop the place known in town as "Schoolhouse Hill."
On Friday, students, staff, and friends of the school gathered on that same hill to celebrate a massive 15,000 square foot addition and renovation of "Our School,"as Mayor Jane Seeman called it, featuring a new library and media center, a new cafeteria and kitchen, administrative offices, a music stage, and the welcomed absence of classroom trailers.
Though the building's changed throughout the years – one story, two stories, or, after a fire in 1919, no stories at all – the structure itself isn't what's kept the spirit of the longest continually operating school in Fairfax County alive for the past 137 years. It's the community that's grown up inside it, and rallied and thrived around it, Principal Jeanette Black said.
During the rededication and ribbon-cutting ceremony, during which Seeman honored the school with a historic marker from the Town of Vienna, it became clear just how many people had once called the school home. Several Town Council members had attended the school. Phyllis Pajardo, assistant superintendent for Fairfax County's Cluster II, said she started her teaching career there in 1981. Vienna resident Mayo Sturdevent Stunz, celebrating his 95th birthday on Friday by attending the ribbon cutting, had gone to the school at Vienna Elementary in the 1920s.
"Whether we're in the 19th century where we first began or the 21st century, you and the staff make our school a place to be proud of," Black said.
After the ceremony, the new library was filled with parents, grandparents, former students and teachers who admired the new space and reminisced about how the school has grown.
Karen Price, now the student registrar, was at the school in 1958, when students had to go outside in order to enter different classrooms, and came to watch movies on Saturdays in the old auditorium on the second floor.
"We'd go sled riding on the hill and watch the train come into town," said Price, whose three children all attended the school as well.
Simon "Sam" Savia and W. Roger Wood, both from the school's class of 1940, still remember when children came from Dunn Loring and Fairfax to attend class, by foot or the trolley that came down Maple Avenue.
They sat in the library on Friday morning with old pictures of the school from Wood's files, tracing the windows in them with a pen as they remembered where each grade held their classes: 1st grade in the bottom right rooms, 2nd and 3rd on the second floor.
Their basketball team wasn't very good, they said – because they had no gym – but their baseball team was "real good," Wood said, often beating the four other towns they played.
Wood's mother and uncle went to the school. Both men were in the service, and though Wood moved away for a while, they both made careers in Vienna and raised families. Wood got into the building business. Savia was an engineer and is still a member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. The men's children attended the school as well.
Throughout all seven of the school's renovations, there are things that have disappeared, or changed, the men said. Savia helped move the original baseball field to where it stands today, but still remembers when the edge of the field came near the front steps – also where, he recalls, a classmate dropped a brick on his head from the roof above him. Wood remembers when the parking lot was paved over part of the old dirt diamond.
They may not recognize many parts of the school today, but they both agreed that there's one thing will likely always stay the same.
"I've been away, and seen things change, but I've never found a place better than Vienna," Wood said.