The Very Beginning of the Davis School
The story of Davis begins in the spring of 1950 when the Board of Education, anticipating a population boom in the North End of the city, acquired a 12.5 acre property in the Daisy Farms area. There was some controversy over the choice of sites, so it was not until July 27, 1951 that the New York State Board of Education gave its permission.
Architect Leland Hubbell Lyon was commissioned by the Board of Education to draw up plans for the proposed school. New Rochelle voters approved a bond issue that year to cover the first of two building stages. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the school were finally held on Lincoln’s birthday, 1952 with Mayor Stanley Church lifting the first shovel of dirt. Construction was well under way when the cornerstone was laid in May, 1952. Although the original plans called for the school to open in September 1952, the usual combination of construction delays and bad weather postponed the dedication of the $860,000 building until May 27, 1953.
After the dedication, graduation exercises for 17 Davis students who had attended the Washington School for the 52-53 year were held on June 16, 1953 in the new school. June also saw the formation of the Parent Teacher Organization with Mrs. Thomas Dunn as the first PTA president. Over the summer, Mr. Leonard Meisner, a former principal from Herkimer, NY was named as the first principal of Davis.
Davis School was conceived as a building which would grow in size as the surrounding neighborhood grew in population. The first stage of construction consisted of eight classrooms, a library, a visual education room and offices with a temporary auditorium/gymnasium combination in the basement. This one story wing was to accommodate 279 children in six grades. When the school officially opened in September 1953, the enrollment was 282 children. Projected enrollment was 1013 in 1960, 1505 in 1970 and a potential of 1900 students at some future point in time.
As the school population in the Davis area increased twice as fast as had been projected, it became apparent that the anticipated second building stage would have to begin immediately rather than at some future date. The Board of Education and the voters approved a bond issue on March 30, 1954 for $1,119,000 to complete Davis School. This figure was approximately $200,000 less than originally budgeted; necessitating drastic changes in the proposal plans. Among the items cut were a separate auditorium, a community sized gym with lockers and a full size cafeteria and kitchen.
The 1954-55 school year was a difficult one for everyone. Students were on split sessions with grades one through five attending school either from 8am – 12noon or from 12:30pm to 4:30pm. Only sixth graders had a full day of school. School life was further disrupted by the construction of the second wing which began in August 1954 and ended in September 1955.
On Monday morning, September 12, 1955, George M. Davis’ Elementary School opened its doors to 600 students on one schedule, in one unified building. The entire red brick building was basically complete. The Standard Star described Davis’s second wing as including seven classrooms on each floor; one home for the arts, shop and music practice rooms, and a special teacher’s room on the second floor. On the first floor are the library and a combination gym/auditorium. This last feature which originally was thought to be both innovative and economical was eventually condemned by educational consultants Engelhardt, Engelhardt and Leggett as resulting in a small dark and inaccessible gymnasium. It was their recommendation that a proper gym be built at Davis as soon as possible and there should be a lunchroom program for Davis which would be serviced by a city-wide central school kitchen.
As the 1955-1956 school year drew to a close, the final finishing touches were applied to Davis School. The play areas were completed and blacktopped, landscaping was begun, trees were planted and grass began to sprout. Where once construction workers and their machines had toiled, new inhabitants, our children, ran and laughed and played. This was the year when the component parts of principal, teachers, students and PTA coalesced into a viable, functioning, strong Davis School. In the words of PTA’s historian for 1956, Ruth Walzer, “As the city’s newest school, the years ahead hold much promise for Davis’ future growth as an instrument of good in the community.”