Students returned to the classroom last week in what most around town would consider a new beginning.

But at Bancroft Elementary School, it was the beginning of the end.

This time next year, the buzz of Bancroft student life will hum in a new home — the new Bancroft Elementary School, built literally yards away from the old. At that point, most, if not all, of the existing school will be gone, razed right to the ground.

“There’s that end of the year that’s going to come, and we’re going to realize that this Bancroft isn’t going to be open anymore,” Principal Malcolm Forsman said. “There are going to be some of the last times that traditions happen.”

Bancroft is known for its traditions as much as it is known for its open-space design, where one classroom spills into the next and the second floor peers down onto the first.

The layout has created its fair share of annual festivities, some that the faculty say they’ll take with them when they leave.

Fifth-grade teacher Claire Touseau cites the annual holiday sing-along as an example.

“If you can imagine, two or three grade levels are sitting on the floor of the Media Center, and then the upper grades are surrounding it (on the second floor), and we’re all singing,” Touseau said. “The kindergartners have their little reindeer hats on and their Rudolph noses. It’s just very sweet.”

Motioning in the direction of the new Bancroft, located in front of the old, Touseau added, “I don’t think you’ll be able to recreate that over there.”

As bus after bus dropped off students for the first day of class last Wednesday, Aug. 28, 37-year veteran Bancroft teacher Debra Nichols became quiet as she stood between the old and new schools and reflected on the significance of the day.

Nichols herself went to Bancroft as a child. It’s where she met her husband, back in the 1970s, before the two had established careers in town.

Her husband, Dave Nichols, eventually became the Andover School District’s athletic director before retiring five years ago.

But for Debra Nichols, the 44-year-old Bancroft School has always felt like home, she said.

“The physical plant is so different than any other building,” she said. “It really encourages people to collaborate. It encourages cross-grade experiences.”

Roxanne Siff started teaching third grade at Bancroft in 1992. Now 21 years later, she still remembers the first impression the castle-like building had on her.

“I remember driving up here as a new teacher, thinking, ‘This is the school I’m teaching at?’” she said. “I’ve never seen a school that looked like this before.”

Forsman, who started at Bancroft last year, said a similar level of shock hit him when he walked into the school for the first time.

“Anyone who comes in here says, ‘How does education happen in this school?’” Forsman said. “I have to admit, I had some of those thoughts and some of those feelings, but everyone adjusts to their environment, and people have really adjusted well.”

Come June, when the school year ends and students begin their summer vacation, work will begin to move the school faculty and materials to the new building, School Building Committee Chairman Tom Deso said.

The new 680-student school will feature some familiar hallmarks of the original Bancroft. The walkway at the school entrance will still be in place and many classrooms will still have that open feel, even if they will be separated by glass walls, Forsman said.

There are already early conversations taking place about what teachers will be able to take from the old school to their new home.

Will they take bricks? A section of a walkway? A part of a sign?

“There’s a lot of people that are talking about wanting to take a piece of Bancroft with them — more than just in their heart, but in their hands,” Forsman said. “Everyone has a different idea of what they’d like to take.”

There hasn’t been an official endorsement of the idea from the School Building Committee, but those mapping out the future school have been tossing ideas around as well, Deso said.

“We’re going to try to figure out some way to do it,” he said, “but we also have to demolish the building. So it’s not as easy as chipping out a brick.”

Forsman and Deso said one possibility might involve removing the current school’s railings and dispersing them among faculty.

But whatever method is used to preserve a piece of the old school, Deso said “we’re going to try to accommodate those wishes.

“I know it’s a very sentimental school for a lot of people, and there is a lot of emotion tied to it,” he said.

Touseau is certain the final day for Bancroft will not be easy.

“(I’m) going to cry when this thing is knocked down,” she said. “I might not be able to be here that day.”

Until that time comes, it will be business as usual at Bancroft. The school’s final year will follow the pattern of previous ones, Forsman said, because it’s “important to keep up the standards and routine for children.”

And when the transition between schools eventually occurs, “we’ll develop new traditions in the new school,” he said.

“I think after we make that break and get over in the new school, see the new environment, this will be a fond memory,” Forsman said. “We’ll work to make new traditions and have excitement that’s owned by that building.”

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