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Former Clarke School staff, alumni seize mementos from beloved Galbraith Center  

  • Michael O'Connell, atop ladder, takes a picture of the centerpiece painted on Coach Dennis Moulton Court in the gym at Galbraith Center, a building slated for demolition at the former Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Saturday. A group of former teachers, former students and others gathered to remove mementos from the school before it is torn down. O'Connell was the principal of the middle school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • George Balsley, from left, Rodney Kunath and Marilyn Buuck remove a plaque at Galbraith Center, Saturday, while gathering mementos from the center, which is part of the former Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton. Balsley is a 1965 graduate of the school who lives in Hadley, Kunath is a 1958 graduate of the school who lives in Northampton, and Buuck, of Florence, was a teacher at the school for 31 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Neal Vigeant, left, of Marlboro, works to remove a portion of the gym floor at Galbraith Center, which bears the name of his great uncle, Dennis Moulton, Saturday at the former Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton. Moulton was the school's athletic director. Helping, right, is Matt Alves, of Hubbardston, who is the son-in-law of Moulton. The building is slated to be demolished, so former students, teachers and others gathered to collect mementos. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joanne O'Connell, left, who was a teacher at Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, talks to a group of people gathered to remove mementos from the school's Galbraith Center, Saturday, as Marilyn Buuck, right, interprets for former students George Balsley, from left, Richard Mahaffy and Rodney Kunath. The building is slated for demolition. Buuck, of Florence, was also a teacher at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • George Balsley holds a plaque bearing the name of William J. Ryan after removing it from a wall Saturday at Galbraith Center, a building on the campus of the former Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton. Balsley graduated from the school in 1965. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A collection of mementos gathered by former students, teachers and others, rests against a wall at Galbraith Center, Saturday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Richard Mahaffy, left, of Northampton, and Kris Galenski, of Belchertown, remove a plaque Saturday at Galbraith Center, a building on the campus of the former Clarke School for the Deaf. A group of former students, teachers and others gathered to collect mementos before the building is demolished. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wesley DeSantis, from left, Matt Alves, Dennis Moulton Jr., Kris Galenski and Neal Vigeant work to remove a section of a gym floor bearing the name of the late Dennis Moulton Sr., Saturday, at Galbraith Center in Northampton. The building, on the campus of the former Clarke School for the Deaf, is slated for demolition. Moulton was a longtime coach and athletic director at the school. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Neal Vigeant, front from left, Matt Alves, Kris Galenski and Wesley DeSantis remove a section of a gym floor bearing the name of Dennis Moulton, Saturday at Galbraith Center, a building on the campus of the former Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, that is slated for demolition. Moulton was a longtime coach and athletic director at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Janet Vigeant, of Marlboro, left, Dennis Moulton, Jr., of Chicopee, and Liz Alves, of Hubbardston, look at a section of a gym floor bearing the name of Dennis Moulton, Sr., Saturday at Galbraith Center, a building on the campus of the former Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, that is slated for demolition. Moulton was a longtime coach and athletic director at the school. Vigeant is the coach's niece; Alves is his daughter. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@StephMurr_Jour
Monday, August 15, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Sawdust swirled in the air, a floor saw buzzed. The building that had once been the heartbeat of the former Clarke School for the Deaf came apart, piece by piece.

Galbraith Center, built in 1966, is not slated for demolition until September, but the construction work was well underway Saturday morning. A dozen alumni, former staff and family members swung open the gymnasium doors and got to work, disassembling the gym floor and bleachers and taking plaques off the walls as mementos.

In its heyday, Galbraith Center hosted physical education classes, school dances, plays and graduations. The building is home to the Scott Auditorum and the Bill Ryan Natatorium, according to former middle school principal Michael O’Connell.

When a group of alumni learned the building would be demolished to make way for Checkwriters Inc., a West Springfield-based data processing and software development firm, they contacted owner Jim Hebert.

“When we heard the gym was coming down, our initial reaction was sadness and disappointment,” O’Connell said. “The silver lining is the fact that we could rescue and salvage the mementos of the building. Jim was gracious to allow us in here. This is our Boston Garden, it’s our Fenway Park.”

According to O’Connell, who retired in 2011 after 37 years, the pieces of the old gymnasium will be presented to alumni at the school’s 150th anniversary celebration next summer.

“I think it’s great that they’re doing this,” Hebert said.

According to Hebert, Checkwriters Inc. will occupy Gawith Hall, a nearby building where renovations will be completed late next summer. He said the architect working on the project hopes to incorporate some of the history of the school by moving some of the bleachers from Galbraith Center into a large conference room.

Hebert is also a managing partner at Historic Round Hill Summit LLC, a development group that has converted neighboring Clarke School properties into high-end apartments and condominiums. Rogers Hall, a Clarke School dormitory being converted into apartments caught fire Aug. 5 while under renovation. The three-alarm blaze penetrated the roof of the building. Hebert said the company has plans to rebuild the structure.

Moulton remembered

Saturday’s project held a special significance for the son and daughter of a late Clarke School teacher.

Dennis Moulton was a Clarke School educator for 42 years. He had a keen sense of humor and a knack for teaching life lessons on the basketball court, O’Connell explained. He was committed to educating deaf students, not only teaching them what a basketball was, for example, but how to say it aloud, O’Connell said.

The Galbraith Center gymnasium floor was dedicated to Dennis Moulton in 2003.

Thirteen years later, Dennis Moulton Jr. and Liz Alves stood and watched as friends and family sawed a square around the center crest on the floor emblazoned with their father’s name. Moulton died of cancer Aug. 1, 2014.

“It’s amazing they let us in to do this,” Alves said. “Especially now that he’s gone, it’s a piece of him we can have.”

Alves followed in her father’s footsteps and started working for the Canton-based outpost of the Clarke School in July. She obtained a master’s degree in education of the deaf from Smith College in 2002 and did independent consulting in the field before joining the Clarke School. Her two children, Madylan and Zack, played in the gymnasium while the adults sawed away at the floor.

Alves, of Hubbardston, lived at the Clarke School and played in the gym every day when she was growing up. She said the school was centered around family, and the educators at the school inspired her career choice.

Dennis Moulton is also survived by his wife, Beatrice, who was unable to attend because she recently had a knee replacement, her son explained. Another brother lives in North Carolina, and could not make it to Northampton to dismantle the gymnasium.

“The kids loved him, he was a good guy,” Dennis Moulton Jr., said. “We’ll probably divide (the floor up) between us and the grandkids. It’s memorabilia.”

According to O’Connell, Moulton was born in Boston. He came to the University of Massachusetts on a swimming scholarship and stayed in the Valley when he landed a job at the Clarke School. O’Connell said the Galbraith swimming pool was like Moulton’s office because he spent so much time there.

Passing the torch

Though the renovation and demolition of a number of former Clarke School buildings brings waves of nostalgia and sadness to alumni, the reason the buildings are no longer necessary to the school is actually a good thing, O’Connell explained.

The Clarke School took an oral approach to educating deaf students so they could compete and participate in the hearing world, O’Connell said. Students stayed at the school until they were ready to head off to public schools.

“In 1973, when I started, profoundly deaf kids barely had any access to sound. But now with digital hearing aids and things like cochlear implants,” O’Connell said, “we go where the kids are and send the staff out. There isn’t a need for a school where the kids live there.”

Early intervention has also had an impact. Focusing on children when they are very young is vital, O’Connell explained, because their brains are malleable and can easily acquire language. Now called Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, the program is an East Coast entity, with centers in Northampton, Canton, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, New York City, and Jacksonville, Florida.

“The Clarke School has always prided itself on being ahead of the curve,” O’Connell said. “I like to think we passed on our experience to the people in the trenches today.”