In September of 1976, the Mid-Valley School District began the school year with five schools. A tumultuous five years followed.
There was an elementary school in each of the three boroughs: Dickson City, Olyphant and Throop. Sixth-grade students from Throop attended the Olyphant Elementary School. Students in seventh through ninth grades attended the Mid-Valley Junior High School which was the former Dickson City Junior High School. Students in 10th through 12th grades attended the Mid-Valley Senior High School which was former Olyphant Junior High School and is now the Lackawanna Heritage Apartments.
The Olyphant Elementary School was sometimes referred to as the Mid-Valley Elementary School in Olyphant. The original two-story part of the building was located on the corner of Church and Susquehanna. It was built in 1910. In 1915, a three-story annex was completed that extended the building to the corner of Susquehanna and Lincoln.
Before the school district consolidation in 1969, the original part of the building was an elementary school and the annex was the senior high school. After the consolidation, the original part of the building continued to be an elementary school; the annex was a hybrid. In the annex there were 12 classrooms and an auditorium. Some classrooms were for elementary grades and others were used for senior high school classes. Some senior high students used to cross Lincoln Street when changing classes.
On December 22, 1976, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry notified the Mid-Valley School District that the Olyphant Elementary School was not in compliance with the “Fire and Panic Law.” The building had highly flammable oil-soaked wooden floors. There were also open stairwells that would aid in the ventilation of a fire. Their concern was that if there was a fire while classes were in session, the building would quickly become fully engulfed in flames.
An evacuation would not be able to be completed in a panic situation. They also cited health-related concerns such as the permanent stench in the lavatories. They said that if the violations were not addressed, they would condemn the building, and order it closed.
On the afternoon of February 10, 1977 after classes were dismissed, the inspectors came and noted that very little, if any work had been done.
The Mid-Valley Spartan Band was practicing on the stage in the auditorium. During practice, a state inspector had a sidebar conversation with the band director, George Kinsley. Kinsley relayed the message to his band that the school had been condemned. The band was allowed to practice until their parents came to pick them up.
Before the consolidation, the Dickson City Elementary School was the Dickson City High School. On March 4, 1977, this building was also condemned. It later was destroyed by fire. The Dickson City Civic Center was built where the school once stood.
The displaced elementary school students from Olyphant and Dickson City then attended classes in the junior high school building which was next to the Dickson City Elementary School. The junior high students and the senior high students used the senior high school building on split sessions. The senior high students attended classes during the morning; the junior high students attended classes during the afternoon.
The Throop Elementary School, which was the former Throop High School, remained unaffected. The Throop Civic Center was built where the school once stood.
The junior high and senior high students attended classes on split sessions for the remainder of the 1976-77 school year and the entire 1977-78 school year. Beginning in September of 1978, the district started to use the former St. Patrick’s School on Delaware Avenue in Olyphant for grades seven and eight. This building is now used by the Visiting Nurses Association.
The senior high school was mainly used by ninth- through 12th-graders, but students in seventh and eighth grades used the gyms. There were four classrooms in the basement of St. Patrick’s Church. One was the Olyphant kindergarten; the other three classrooms were used for junior high school classes. There was a mobile home in the alleyway next to the condemned school that was used for home economics classes.
Students often left one building and went to another when changing classes. Tony’s Pizza Palace on Delaware Avenue was the de facto cafeteria.
In 1972, the district purchased land in Throop to build a new junior-senior high school. In January of 1974, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources granted conditional approval for construction. Franko Street and Ash Street were to be extended. The new school was to be built on the corner where the two streets would have met. This is behind Martarano Drive. Storrs Street in Dickson City was going to be extended to the Lackawanna River and a bridge was to be built for an access road to the proposed school.
There were residents who were very vocal opponents of the new school and this never came to fruition.
In May of 1977, there was a nonbinding referendum concerning the condemned school buildings. The residents of Throop voted to have the new school built on Franko Street, but the overall vote among the three boroughs was to renovate the condemned schools. The school district paid architects and engineers to determine the best course of action.
They concluded that the taxpayers’ money would be better spent on new construction rather than renovation of the condemned buildings. There would also be some funding from the state to build a new school, but no state money for renovations.
On May 11, 1978, the school board voted to build a new school on Underwood Road in Throop.
A group of residents filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County to prevent the new school from being built. There was a court injunction, and construction was not able to begin until this lawsuit was resolved. On June 22, 1979, the court ruled in favor of the Mid-Valley Board of Education, but the court injunction delayed construction an entire year.
On July 2, 1979, there was a groundbreaking ceremony. Construction of the Mid-Valley Secondary Center was completed in June of 1981. While the Mid-Valley Class of 1981 was not able to attend classes in the building, they were the first class to graduate in the auditorium of the newly built school. Students in seventh through 12th grades began to attend classes in the school in September of 1981.
Joseph Peter Klapatch is a 1982 graduate of the Mid-Valley Secondary Center, and the author of “The Old School: The Mid-Valley Elementary School in Olyphant, Pennsylvania.”
Olyphant Central School with annex, sometime between 1915 and 1937. Photo courtesy of Ed Krisler.