PORT JERVIS – Big changes are coming to Port Jervis Middle School! The circa 1922 school, which served high school and then middle school students over the past century, will be transformed into a modern elementary school.
This year’s middle school students and part of the staff left the century-old East Main Street middle school for the last time last week. They will finish their school year at the Route 209 campus. Complete upgrades to the interior of PJMS, and construction of an expansive side addition, will begin immediately with a completion timetable of two years.
Alumni and former staff stopped by after students left the school last week.
Among those who stopped by to bid farewell were all seven living past PJMS principals, and current Principal Andrew Marotta. These eight educators have led the school through five-plus decades of learning, more than half of the school’s 100-year history.
Thomas Hoppey, Robert Witherow, Richard Roberts, Jack Latini, Thomas Bongiovi, Jean Lain, Cindy Benedict, and Marotta could be heard reminiscing, and echoing Latini’s assessment that “the ‘best years of a great career” had been spent at the stately Port Jervis school.
“I think we could all say the same,” Roberts quickly affirmed.
It was Port Jervis Mayor Kelly Decker, a Social Studies teacher at PJMS, who reached out for last week’s gathering of principals.
“Today was the last day of 118 East Main Street operating as the Middle School that many of us have known since 1960. It will soon become an elementary school with a totally replaced interior and large addition,” Decker said. “I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to get all the former principals together before they close the doors today.’ It was an unbelievable opportunity to welcome back Mr. Witherow, Mrs. Lain, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Hoppey, Mr. Latini, Mrs. Benedict and Mr. Bongiovi; along with current Principal Marotta to close out an era,” Decker said. “What a trip down memory lane.”
For 2022-2023 school year, half of the current middle school will be used as learning space, with only seventh grades in the school. Eighth grades will attend the 209 Campus in classroom space previously used by ASK and PJHS.
For 2023-2024 school year, the new addition and one-half of renovated East Main Street building will be complete and again used only for seventh grades. The remaining half of the school will then be closed and renovated.
The entire project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2024. By school year 2024-2025, it is expected that the current PJMS will open as a K-five elementary school. Anna S. Kuhl campus will open as the district’s middle school, for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.
Superintendent Mike Rydell and others expressed excitement for the structural changes and relocated grade levels.
“The project will offer benefits across the school district with an improved alignment of programs throughout the K-12 continuum. The end result will be secondary grades on one campus, thereby allowing for increased programming opportunities. The transformation of the current middle school to a K-5 elementary school will provide our students with a 21st Century learning environment that will yield immediate positive results and benefits,” Rydell said.
Tom Hoppey, who formerly served for decades as PJMS principal, agrees.
Born and raised in Port Jervis and intricately involved in the Port Jervis community throughout his life, Hoppey recently turned 90. He followed Ted Archer as PJMS principal, leading the middle school through the 70s and 80s.
“This school is the Grand Dame of the district. She’s 100-years old and still standing,” Hoppey said. “She’s going to get a new life, which is a great idea. It’s a definite plus.”
Hoppey noted himself as being among those who thought the middle and elementary school locations should have been switched a long time ago.
“I remember having to send some of the accelerated classes to the high school years ago. It was difficult, but the classes weren’t available any other way for those students,” he said. “This is just a good move all around. The education is going to be great.”
Big changes may be coming to the historic East Main Street school of learning, but as Hoppey stated, “She’s 100 years this year, and still standing.”