One last look: Hardy Elementary alumni recall their time at 1961 school slated for demolition
Published 9:35 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2023
It’s been 54 years since Brian Blount attended Hardy Elementary, but the circa-1961 school still looks as he remembers.
Mint green ceramic tiles still line its hallways. From a window in Hardy’s library he can see the playground and basketball courts in the same area behind the school where he once played.
It’s a sight that won’t last forever. Much of the one-story school, including the library wing and playground, is slated to be demolished this summer to make room for a bus parking lot that will serve a new, larger Hardy being built less than 100 feet away.
The nearly completed two-story Hardy is being designed to accommodate Isle of Wight County’s rapidly growing population. Its 887-student capacity reflects a 35% increase over the old school’s 657-student maximum. Isle of Wight grew by 4%, or roughly 1,500 residents, in two years, making it the seventh fastest-growing county in Virginia according to mid-2022 census estimates.
Isle of Wight County Schools invited the public on May 15 to take one last walk through Hardy’s halls and say “goodbye” to the school.
Blount remembers walking through the woods as a child to get to Hardy.
“We didn’t live too far from here,” he said.
The old school sits on land that was once a 150-acre farm owned by his grandfather Richard Blount at what’s now aptly named Blounts Corner Road. Brian’s father, Edward, was the school’s second Parent-Teacher Association president. Lucy Blount, wife of Edward’s cousin, Thomas, was the school’s first-ever principal. The Blounts sold another portion of their family land for the new Hardy, continuing their generational connection with the school.
Blount recalls Hardy was still segregated when he attended from 1962 to 1969.
Though it had been seven years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed segregation in public schools, Isle of Wight initially built Hardy as a Black-only school and only began allowing Black students to attend formerly white-only schools in 1965 under a precursor policy to integration known as “freedom of choice.” A lawsuit by 84 children and their parents eventually forced the school system to integrate at the start of the 1969-70 school year.
Despite the racial tensions of the day, Brian still has fond memories of the school, as does Michelle Jenkins, now 64, who also attended Hardy during the 1960s.
“It was like a community,” Jenkins said.
Over the decades, Hardy has become a second home for generations of students, Black and white alike. Among them is Anna Cook.
Cook, who just finished her first year of college, credits Hardy with introducing her to four former classmates who have remained friends through high school and now into adulthood.
Among Hardy’s youngest alumni to return for the walk-through were friends Riley Kirk and Lauren Reis, both rising ninth-graders who will attend Smithfield High School come September.
“They loved Hardy,” said Lauren’s mother, Laurel.
While many cheered Isle of Wight County’s plans for a new Hardy, the two girls were sad to learn the old school would need to be demolished, Laurel said.
The girls made sure to visit, one last time, Hardy’s music room, where Kirk had played guitar in Hardy’s student band four years earlier.
In the old school’s cafeteria, Curator Rachel Popp was busy taking inventory of memorabilia the Isle of Wight County Museum had asked the public to submit from their time at the school. So far, she’s received a 1975 yearbook and a 2009 Smithfield Times article titled “Goodbye, Mr. Crawford,” which recounts the festivities at the school when former Principal Richard Crawford retired after 38 years, 15 of them at Hardy.
Those who wish to keep their memorabilia can have it photographed and returned to them, Popp said. Other materials donated to the museum will be digitized and then put into proper acid-free storage for preservation.
The old school’s gymnasium and an adjacent wing are slated to remain standing and be converted into a permanent home for the school system’s central office staff, who currently operate out of a modular building behind Westside Elementary, another 1960s-era school.
Originally, the plan was for most of Hardy, save for the two wings, to be demolished on June 17, one day after the last day of the school year for teachers. But, according to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the demolition date is no longer definite. It will instead occur sometime over the summer, she said.