Chris Demianew watched the demolition of Sherwood Heights Elementary School on Wednesday morning with a distant look in his eyes.

Two excavators chomped into the old school with clamshell buckets that grabbed and smashed whatever came into their grasp. The excavators attacked the gym, but eventually would chew their way around the building in a circular fashion. The demolition will last for about two months at Sherwood and also across town at the old Washington Elementary School.

The loud demolition noises didn’t seem to phase Demianew, who stood on the sidewalk, remembering his years at the school.

“My entire family went here,” he said. “My five brothers and sisters. My two children.”

Demianew, 40, can still recall learning square dancing in the cafeteria and playing four-square on the cement play area out back. He remembers Principal Joseph Daley, who contributed to Demianew’s own desire to become a teacher.

“My connection to teaching started in this very building,” he said. “Mr. Daley was a kind man who expected kids to do their best.”

Daley became the first principal at Sherwood in 1954 and remained there until he retired in 1986.

As Demianew mused, Project Manager Greg Ponder of Kirby Nagelhout Construction greeted him and chatted about the place. Ponder said Demianew wasn’t the only one to stand and relive memories.

“There’s been a lot of nostalgia from the community,” Ponder said.

He said the interior of the school was packed with good-bye messages from students, teachers and staff. Ponder led the way into the other end of the school and the wing’s yet-to-be-demolished classrooms. The messages covered every wall, some scrawled, some neatly penned, but all expressing sadness and appreciation for the old school and the memories created there.

In one first-grade classroom, a student had drawn a big heart and written inside, “I will miss this school really much — I love this school. But then we’ll go to the new school.”

Recent Pendleton High School graduate Patrick Cahill had penned, “This is where I began…”

The same nostalgia, Ponder said, covers walls at Washington Elementary.

Ponder said the school district is already moving into the brand-new schools next door to the old ones. Demianew said the loss of Sherwood is bittersweet. He turned his eyes to the pristine new building and smiled.

“It’s hard to feel too sad when you look over there at that beautiful, much-needed new facility,” he said.

But still, it is worth taking a moment or two to reflect on the past.

“Elementary schools are special places,” Demianew said. “It’s where people find out who they are.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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