For Pelham bus schedules please go to the school district website.

For Windham bus schedules please go to the school district website.

Scavenger Hunt Along Windham’s Rail Trail

by Lynne Ober

Jackson, 23 months, enjoyed getting an up-close and personal look at the large vehicles.

It was a gorgeous fall day for the annual scavenger hunt along Windham’s Rail Trail.  The activity, the brainstorm of Windham’s creative Recreation Director Cheryl Haas, starts with the kids putting their names on brown paper bags that will be used to collect their treasurers.  Names and colorful decorations quickly adorned the bags.

“We have snacks.  Let me know if anyone is hungry,” said Haas, grinning, who knows that little munchkins require fuel to keep their legs moving.  She passed out a list of scavenger items, and her eager hunters along with their moms quickly began searching for red and yellow leaves, pine cones, rocks, accords, sticks, and also had a little bit of nature to identify.  Could they find the white bark on a birch tree, a chipmunk busy gathering food, a paw print, piece of old railroad track, a tree growing out of the rocks, and many other treasures in nature.

The scavenger hunt began at the head of the rail trail.  As a special treat, the caboose was open, and a small working car, called a Speeder car, was set up for the kids to enjoy.The Speeder car, built in 1938, was used until the 1960s when it was replaced by trucks on the rail.  It goes 20 to 30 miles an hour, and owner Dick Forde still arranges to run it on the rails.  “I get permission to use a section of track.  Then I trailer it to the point and enjoy the ride.  This weekend, we are going to Maine to ride on the rails and enjoy the fall foliage,” he smiled.

Inside the caboose the children were learning how it served as a home to the men who worked on the railroad.  Jackson, 23 months, was outside entertaining himself by examining the huge trucks and pieces of equipment stored at the head of the rail trail.  “If it’s a truck, he loves it,” said his grinning mother, who kept a watchful eye on his explorations.

After scavenger bags were filled and the caboose and Speeder Car viewed, the kids settled down to enjoy a well-earned snack.

Kiara, 22 months, found the perfect crayon to decorate her scavenger bag.

The Speeder car was a big attraction.

Selectmen Chairman Resigns

by Lynne Ober

In a surprise announcement that came at the end of Tuesday’s Selectmen’s meeting, Board of Selectman Chairman Ed Gleason resigned from the board.

Gleason made a brief announcement to the board and then declined to answer any questions.

This fall there has been controversy over the handling of some department’s budgets and recently additional controversy over a Dalmatian dog that occasionally goes to the fire department with Fire Chief Michael Walker.  Surprisingly, the dog issue is quite hot.  Selectman Bob Haverty excused himself from the discussion during Tuesday’s meeting, and no definitive decision had been made but Selectman Victor Danevich volunteered to draft a policy for the board.

Although Gleason did not address the recent friction among board members, there were questions about the impact these issues had on his decision.

Gleason read a very brief statement when he resigned.  In his quietly gracious manner, he calmly thanked everyone he had worked with and the people he had enjoyed serving.

Although Gleason was not available for comment at press time, his contributions have been many and he will be missed.  His term would have been up this March and he had given no indication that he would run for re-election.  Before being elected as a Selectman, Gleason also served on Pelham’s Budget Committee and remained the Selectmen’s Representative to the Budget Committee this year even after he took on the additional responsibilities of Chair.

Under Gleason’s tenure on Selectmen, the development of a default budget has grown.  At the time he joined the board, voters had voted down the operational budget and the then default budget had significant errors.  Through Gleason’s hard work, the default budget process has been improved.

Fire Chief Michael Walker said that he enjoyed working with Gleason, “but I can understand why he might feel that it was time to start enjoying life instead of being at meetings every night.  He made a tremendous and continuous contribution to the town.”

Searles School Celebrates 100 Years

by Tom Tollefson

Lani Moiynihan, Maria Webber, and Joan Griffin

At the age of 99, Maria Webber is only one year younger than Searles School, where she taught for many years.  “I’m almost as old as the building,” she stated, while mingling among her former students. 

Webber was one of dozens of town’s people, former students, and former teachers who returned to Searles School for its 100-year celebration, hosted by the Windham Historic Commission, on Saturday, October 6, from 1 to 5 p.m. 

“We thought the best way to celebrate would be to invite back everyone who ever went here,” said Peter Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association.

The alumni commonly referred to their years at the traditional schoolhouse as being “comfortable” and “down to earth,” while they casually meandered through the former two-room schoolhouse reminiscing about scampering through the field next to the building during recess.  The Windham Historic Commission also provided food, cake, and beverages for all in attendance. 

Several alumni also stated that the education quality was higher during those early days; they can still recite poetry from Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, which they learned from former teachers such as Jack Bone.

Searles School served as an active elementary school from 1907 until 1971.  After this period, the Windham School District used the building for kindergarten.  In 1976, Windham Bicentennial Commission chose to restore the building.  Since the renovations, the building has been used for weddings, girl/boy scout meetings, showers, church services, concerts, and town meetings.

The Windham Historic Commission renovations included the installation of air conditioning; excavating the basement; installing a wheel chair lift, a kitchen, and new restrooms; and the removal of a suspended ceiling.  The commission continues to provide the upkeep for the building through the funds raised from renting it out for various functions.

In 1907, millionaire philanthropist Edward Francis Searles (1841 – 1920) built Searles School and donated it to Windham to replace an earlier school building the town had deeded to him.

According to Windham history, the town took ownership in 1909 of the then, newly constructed Searles School and Chapel from its most eccentric resident, Edward Francis Searles. The building, built at a cost of approximately $40,000, and the land on which it rests, was offered as a trade for the town’s School House No. 1.

The school was constructed of a Tudor-styled granite and designed with a multitude of exquisite details: cathedral-style cypress ceilings and matching cypress paneling throughout, hand-carved arched doorways, and intricate stained glass windows. A large tower, erected centrally to connect the easterly chapel room and westerly schoolroom, held within it 12 melodious carillons of sandblasted bronze.  Searles School served as one of six elementary schools in Windham for grades 1 to 8.

As happens to many buildings, its use changed over the years.  At various times in its history, the building was home to Sunday services, elementary school students, and the Windham Cooperative Kindergarten for a number of years.  With those changes, came structural changes, and many of the building’s elaborate architectural charms were hidden. Suspended ceilings were hung, and linoleum was laid, to camouflage the exquisite ceilings, floors, and the cathedral-style tops of the stained glass windows.

Eventually, structural issues caused the building to fall vacant.  Finally, the Windham Historical Committee dedicated itself to the monumental task of its restoration.  According to Windham history, “Through donations, and with the support of the residents, the committee first restored the building structurally then tackled the chapel room. As the suspended ceilings were torn down, and the vaulted ceilings revealed, many caught their first glimpse of the charm within the Searles building.  In 1996, the chapel was complete, and the building’s newest era as a function facility began. In 2004, restoration of the main hall was also completed, making the full splendor that is the Searles School and Chapel available to enjoy.”

Searles chose the Gothic-style architect Henry Vaughan to design the schoolhouse.  Vaughan designed the two-room building with barrel-vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and a central tower with a series of tubular chimes that still ring today.

“It’s not your typical schoolhouse. It’s more reminiscent of a prep school than a rural schoolhouse,” Griffin said.

Lena Throdik, David Thorndike (Searles Alumni), and Marion Dismore 

Should Windham Give School District Land?

by Barbara O’Brien

School Board Chairman Al Letizio seemed to surprise almost everyone at the meeting when he unveiled a potential plan to ask the town for a parcel of land on which to build a stadium at the future Windham High School. 

During the school board meeting on Tuesday, October 2, Letizio said he had just received information regarding where to best build a high school stadium, should the idea go forward and eventually be approved by town residents. A stadium is not currently included in the approved plans for Windham High School. The new high school, under construction on London Bridge Road, off of Route 111, is expected to open to students for the 2009 – 2010 school year.

Two plans were presented to the public on October 2, one with a proposed stadium located on the existing school district property; the other on an 8.2-acre parcel of land currently owned by the town, known as the “Gage Property” and currently listed as conservation land.

Letizio said it doesn’t appear there is sufficient space on the existing high school property to build a stadium, a future middle school, and all the athletic fields that might be needed to accommodate a variety of programs for both middle school and high school students. Also, he said, if the stadium is built on the current town property, it would be much closer to the high school building.

Although a stadium, a second gymnasium, and several athletic fields were not included in the proposal approved by voters at town meeting last March, members of the High School Athletic Committee recently proposed a “vision” of what they deem has still needed at the facility. School board members subsequently endorsed this “vision,” but no costs or locations were included in the original recommendations presented to the school board last month.

Some estimated costs were revealed, however, during the October 2 school board meeting. According to Letizio, the stadium (with artificial turf, an inside track, bleachers, and lighting for night use) would carry an approximately $4 million price tag. Such a stadium would accommodate between 1,200 and 1,600 people, he said. A second gymnasium added to the high school would cost about $900,000 and measure 60 feet in width by 110 feet in length. An additional softball field, plus an additional baseball field, would cost about $250,000 each, Letizio said. This would be “today’s cost,” he said. With inflation, the cost could be expected to go up about 7 percent for each year construction is delayed.

School Board Member Barbara Coish said she feels the stadium will never be built if plans are to construct it on town property. The town won’t give the school district that land, she said. Coish asked Glenn Davis, the owner’s representative for the construction of Windham High School, why an option to build on town property is even being considered. This was not the school board’s direction, she said. Davis said the option is being presented because “there is no way all that is proposed will fit on (high) school property.”

School Board Member Beverly Donovan said she doesn’t know if people will agree to the additional construction if everything is asked for at the same time. Donovan said she doesn’t feel fields for a future middle school need to be on the new site by the high school, but could remain at the site of the existing middle school. “We don’t have to abandon the fields at the current middle school,” she said.

School Board Member Bruce Anderson said he feels there are a lot of questions that need to be logistically answered before any plans can be made. 

State Representative Charlie McMahon said he feels both proposals — one with a stadium built on the current high school property, the other on town land — should be presented to residents “with full disclosure.”

Most of the residents who attended the October 2 school board meeting were in favor of building the additional athletic facilities outlined in the athletic committee’s “vision.” Most also said they want these facilities built as soon as possible, preferably prior to the opening of the high school in two years.  “I can’t imagine another bond passing this coming March,” Coish said of the additional proposed expense.

Several residents, who spoke at the meeting, said the lack of additional facilities at the high school would mean no junior varsity sports programs would be offered. Another resident said teams from other high schools wouldn’t even come to play in Windham if the facilities weren’t inadequate.

“We should stop dummying down the (high school) project,” McMahon said. “Anything less than enjoyed at Salem and Pinkerton is a disservice to students,” he said. Windham High School students currently attend Salem High School. Previously, they went to Pinkerton Academy in Derry. The new high school needs to be done “first class,” McMahon said. McMahon is also the president of the Windham Baseball/Softball League.

As for the financial impact of the additional construction, McMahon said there needed to be additional economic development in Windham to relieve the tax burden on homeowners. “The selectmen and school board need to work together, or we will fail,” he said.

Under the current plans, Windham High School would be opening with a football team, boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, girls’ field hockey, and a cross-country team; all fall sports and varsity teams only. As for the following spring, there would be a baseball team, a softball team, and a lacrosse team; again varsity only.

“Do it right up front,” said a resident and former Salem High School principal. “It will only get more expensive in the future.” “The ‘vision’ is not extravagant,” he said. “It’s minimum.  Currently, 30-percent state building aid is available for construction projects,” he said. “That money won’t be around forever.”

Superintendent Frank Bass said the school system would do what it can with what’s given to the school district. As much information as possible needs to be acquired prior to the next public discussion of the issue, Bass said. It is anticipated that the location of a potential stadium will be discussed further at the Tuesday, October 16, school board meeting.

17 Executive Drive, Suite One, Hudson, NH 03051 Phone: (603)880-1516 Fax: (603)879-9707
email: Copyright © 2005-2009 Area News Group