History of the Harrington School

The idea for the Harrington School began in 1954 as a result of the overcrowding of the other elementary schools. From 1949 to 1954, total enrollment in Lexington grew 69% from 2,703 to 3,926. Clearly, more school capacity was needed and a new school was proposed. On November 18, 1954, the town paper, The Lexington Minuteman, reported on the front page that the school committee had unanimously voted to name the proposed school after an important Lexington family, the Harringtons. This illustrious family figures prominently throughout Lexington history from the Minutemen participating, and dying at the Battle at Lexington Green through philanthropic activities and involvement in town government.

With the proposal in place, the Maple-Lowell Street Building committee, composed of Lexington residents, architect, and superintendent, moved forward with plans to gain financial support from the community. The ten-acre site met the requirements of the state and included play areas for school and community use as well as an available area for future school expansion. Reactions to the proposed Harrington were positive, especially since new houses were being built in East Lexington and there was no other school site in the immediate area.

When Harrington first began to operate as an elementary school (1956), Mr. Alexander Cumming was the principal. Each grade, first through six had one teacher. The cafeteria was originally built to seat “more than 50% of the student population at one time” and was designed to be used “for student activities except during the actual lunch period.” Later, the cafeteria was unable to support the number of students for which it was originally planned. This became important in the 1960’s when Harrington became overcrowded and the school was, on occasion, forced to use the cafeteria as a classroom.

In the 1960’s, four classrooms were added to the back of the building, called The Wing. The original floor plan included these classrooms as they were anticipated in the early stages of planning Harrington. In the 1970’s, one extra room was added between the wing and the main building.

Kindergarten was added at Harrington around the 1970’s and around 1980 the sixth grade was moved to the Diamond and Clark Middle Schools. At this time, the trend across the country was to move sixth grade to the middle school. Another factor in moving the sixth grade to the middle schools was that Harrington, as well as other elementary schools in town, was getting too crowded with seven grades in the same building (K-6). When the sixth grade class moved, many sixth grade teachers chose to move with their students to the middle schools which contributed to the community feeling of the schools in Lexington because teachers stayed with their students.

In the mid 1990’s, the Lexington School Committee determined that the town’s public school buildings were badly in need of updating and significant maintenance. It was cost effective for the secondary schools to be renovated. However, this was not the case for the older elementary schools. For reasons of town financing, state reimbursement, and need for swing space, it was decided that rebuilding of the elementary schools would be packaged in groups of two. Each new elementary school would follow a 2-story ‘spider’ design, with special consideration for year-round utilization by the community. Centrally located in each school would be the gym and cafeteria. Dedicated art, music, computer, instrumental music, conference, and extended day space were included in the new designs. Special attention was given to energy efficiency, acoustic qualities, greater classroom size, and elements for community use. Each school was created to house 500 students. The new Harrington was designed with a large community meeting space with a non-theatrical stage. The cafetorium is a combination of the cafeteria and gymnasium, which can be used individually for their designated functions or combined for a larger event. The old Harrington would remain a viable building under the School Department’s jurisdiction.

Being the oldest in the town, the Fiske and Harrington Schools were chosen to be rebuilt first. After having determined that the new Fiske would have to be built on the footprint of the old Fiske due to lot and traffic configurations, the town’s oldest school faced the unexpected issue of where to house the students during construction. Conversely, the new Harrington would be situated within a few hundred yards of the old. Therefore, Harrington was rebuilt first followed by Fiske, whose students used the old Harrington as swing space.

The official opening ceremony was held on March 3, 2005. Each classroom participated, as did many town officials. In front of the new school, each classroom lined up and held a long ribbon, which was in turn cut by a different official, starting with Mr. Crump, a former principal.

There were a lot of mixed feelings about moving into a new building. The teachers were excited and nervous, but sad to leave behind all of the old memories. Some teachers originally thought they might miss things about the “old” Harrington. “There are people, there are sounds, and there are smells that make Harrington, Harrington.” It isn’t just the teachers who anticipated missing the old school. At the final annual parents’ open house at the original Harrington, turnout was huge because parents showed up who no longer had children in the school in order to see it open one last time. The teachers knew that part of their job would be transferring the spirit from the old to the new Harrington. Having succeeded, the actual location of the school building makes no difference. Harrington is still Harrington.

While the staff and alumni had mixed feelings about moving into a new school, the response from the students, especially the older ones, was overwhelmingly positive. The students looked forward to better resources, especially the new computers and a real art classroom. One student couldn’t help but exclaim: “My classroom even has a huge skylight!” According to some parents, the teachers did a great job psyching the students up for the move by showing them pictures of the new rooms and allowing them to participate in the packing of the school.

The school was scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2004, but the date was pushed back to February 2005. When all the construction dust settled, what emerged was a strong, solid Harrington school, held together by the community of teachers, students, parents, and town residents. This community effort is what makes Harrington Elementary School so special in the eyes of everyone who has been touched by Harrington.

Of course, Harrington is still building!