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1-room school has solid backers

They want to keep the Red Brick open

Those who love Franklin's Red Brick School are willing to admit that a red-brick schoolhouse in Croydon, N.H., is older than their school, but they won't give up their distinction as home of the nation's oldest one-room red-brick schoolhouse still in use, especially not as the future of the school hangs in the balance.

Supporters of the Red Brick School say the Croydon building actually has two rooms. Photographs from a recent trip to Croydon show one large classroom, with a door leading to a second chamber holding a table, a counter, cabinets, and a copy machine.

"Looks like a room to me," said Herbert F. Hunter, treasurer of the nonprofit Red Brick School Association. Hunter said he still feels comfortable with the long-touted claim that Franklin's school is the oldest.

But in Croydon, resident Albert Smith, feels differently. "This town is sat isfied that we have the oldest one-room school," said Smith, director and treasurer of the Croydon Historical Society.

"That additional room is probably where they put their galoshes or their boots, their hats or coats" and doesn't count as a classroom, he said.

Smith said he contacted state departments of education throughout the country in 2003, and concluded that Croydon's school was the oldest one-room school still being used as a school.

The Croydon school was built in 1780, more than 50 years before Franklin's 1833 construction. Croydon's single classroom educates first- through third-graders, who then attend school in neighboring Newport from fourth grade onward.

It may be, however, that the current anteroom was once a classroom.

"They've remodeled it quite a few times. Once upon a time, the youngest students were taught by a woman and the older students were taught by a master, or a man," said Rita Gross, Croydon's unofficial town historian. "So originally, it was two rooms."

She doesn't know when the second classroom ceased to be, but does know that when her husband, who was born in 1916, attended the Croydon school, students in eight grades took their lessons in a single room, from one teacher.

The historical status of the Franklin school takes on extra significance as the building, considered by some to be a financial burden on the district, stands at risk of shutting its doors.

Franklin's brick school is home to a kindergarten class and is officially part of the Davis Thayer Elementary School. It almost closed this spring, but a last-minute donation of $18,000 from Garelick Farms, coupled with $9,000 from the school's association, kept it open.

The School Committee appointed a task force to study several factors, including the school's operating costs, the veracity of its oldest-schoolhouse assertion, the possibility of alternative uses, the school's safety, and its accessibility to all students.

The School Committee, after hearing a report from the task force, will ultimately decide the school's fate.

And whether the school is the oldest one-room schoolhouse or not, its status is only one of several items that will affect the committee's decision, said its chairman, Jeffrey Roy.

Some of the school's supporters say they don't understand the desire to shut it down.

"What is this anger? It's almost like hatred toward a relative," said Warren Revell, a 1953 alumnus of the Red Brick School, during the school association's annual meeting last week.

The Red Brick School has faced the threat of closure before. Amid a stack of old newspaper clippings circulating during Monday's meeting was one from 1981 that read, "Franklin Brick School Will Be Staying Open."

The Red Brick School Association was formed in 1984, and its members last week said they were committed to raising money to at least quash financial arguments for closing the school.

The association has already pledged to donate another $9,000 this year, but Hunter said he hopes to raise between $15,000 and $25,000.

"As far as I'm concerned personally, whether Brick is the oldest one in the country, the oldest one in New England, matters not," said Sandra Hunter, Herbert Hunter's wife and the association's interim president. "It's very special, it's very important to Franklin, and that's why we need to keep it open."

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