Black River High closing ‘heartbreaking’

By Evan Chadwick
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With the permanent closure of Black River Middle and High School firmly on the minds of many Ludlow-area residents since the district merger creating the Two Rivers Supervisory Union passed by a 288-231 vote in 2018, people had long been preparing for the closing of the school in June 2020 — and its final graduation.

Everyone expected one more spring, one more opening day, one more prom, one more Vermonter farewell to the seniors on graduation day.

This was the final chance for the Black River faithful to come to support their students, a tradition that has defined this central Vermont community since 1939 when the three-story brick building was officially introduced to its inaugural student body of 454 students.

Now, with Gov. Phil Scott’s announcement to close all Vermont schools for the remainder of the school year, the last hurrah for the last class, will forever be remembered not for its final day of instruction and its commencement, but for its somber and sudden goodbye in what has been a historic and difficult 2020 spring semester.

“Kids who came to Black River got a real good education,” says Joe Gurdak, a long-time science teacher who retired after 28 years of teaching at Black River, and will serve as the athletic director for the BRHS Presidents until the end of the 2020 school year. “Wherever our students wanted to go, Black River gave them what they needed to succeed.”

Tens of thousands of central Vermonters have called Black River home. It was a school that was known for its competitive athletic teams, a place known for drawing a crowd to any of its extra-curricular activities and was the heart of the greater Ludlow community for generations.

Black River students ask voters to reject the merger and keep their school open

“I really enjoyed the small community feeling at Black River,” says Marcia Dockum, who was a 1979 graduate of Black River, raised two sons who graduated from Black River in 2002 and 2007 and was the art teacher at BRHS for 30 years before taking a job at Green Mountain High School this past year. “Black River has always felt like a family.”

It will be difficult to fathom a fall without soccer games at the famed Dorsey Park, one of the first small-town fields in the state to sport lights to allow the athletes to play night games before their enthusiastic crowds.

It will equally be difficult for local residents to no longer witness the daily parade of children emerging from the school building on the southside of town as they meander their way home.

There is nothing pretty about the loss of these small-town schools, it is the evolution of our communities as the pursuit to cut costs and contain property taxes becomes ever more prevalent in the daily political agenda. And, with the declining student-body population in many Vermont towns, it has become harder and harder for populations to justify keeping their small schools open.

Although the challenges continued to mount for Black River as the student population continued to decline, it did not keep the school administration and the town from doing everything in their power to support their students. “The town was really behind the students,” said Gurdak. “The school board backed us on everything they could money-wise to support the activities offered to our kids.”

But as the classrooms close down, the equipment gets sold off or sent to other schools, and the building faces an uncertain future, those who have been enriched as students, teachers or simply the President faithful now must face a Ludlow without its President pride, something that has meant so much more to the town than just the school itself.

“When you lose your school you lose part of your identity,” says Dockum. The sports gatherings, the band concerts, seeing the kids walking on streets after school, it will be heartbreaking to drive by the building and know all the history there and that now, it’s all gone.”

Editor’s Note: Teachers and faculty, including Black River Principal Karen Timboli, declined to comment for this article.

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About the Author: Originally from Rochester, Vermont, Evan Chadwick is a practicing attorney who lives in Brattleboro with his family. He is a 2007 graduate of Keene State College and a former varsity basketball coach for Bellows Falls Union High School.

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  1. This brought me to tears. This is the second school of which I am an alma mater to close this year. First it was the College of St. Joseph – Rutland and now Black River High School in Ludlow. Maybe someday there will be a trend to “get back to the land” and youth will embrace small town living like they did in droves in the 60s. I’m afraid with Ludlow’s year-round population decline the town will become little more than a tourist attraction for the rich, and that “community” spirit will be left vacant. I don’t say that to be critical, it’s just “heartbreaking” to see the small town, farms, local industry, public schools…all but have disappeared in my lifetime. Gone.

  2. Paul hendrickson says:

    If only you would tax the flatlanders to keep this school open. Sick. What you going to do, turn it into condos for the not so rich flatlanders?

  3. Sharon Bixby says:

    A very nice article indeed on the loss of our beloved
    BRHS! Thank you.

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