The pile of bricks sat in a dusty heap, with pieces of wire and iron rods sticking out at odd angles.
It’s not the most inviting sight. But as construction workers demolish the last of the old Sunset Hills Elementary building — it’s mostly just the old gym that’s still standing — Sunset Hills parents, alum and neighbors stopped by Monday to grab a brick or two from the stack.
It’s their last chance to collect a piece of a school that elicits plenty of warm memories.
“It seems like it’s just a pile of concrete, but it’s not,” said Julie Liakos, who’s been a Sunset Hills parent for 20 years. Her youngest will be a fifth-grader in the fall, the last of four Liakos children to attend Sunset Hills. “It’s been exciting to watch the construction of the new building but bittersweet all the same.”
A new Sunset Hills Elementary will open this August, replacing the school built in 1956 near 93rd and Walnut Streets, near the Sunset Valley golf course. Because the school sits on almost 12 acres, the new $13.8 million school has been built alongside the old, which is now being torn down. Westside Community Schools officials welcomed alumni and residents to take a brick as a souvenir.
Shareef Salfity and James Gigantelli marveled at all of the construction activity on the blacktop where they used to play dodgeball, basketball and four square. The two just graduated from college and wanted a small memento from their old elementary school.
“It’s sad to see it go,” Salfity said.
Sunset Hills has always been a small neighborhood school, with enrollment hovering around 150 kids in recent years. That gave the school a close-knit feel, parents and former students said.
“My daughter had 13 kids in her class,” Lori Gigantelli said.
The new school will double capacity, with space for 300 students. The bigger size has led to fierce debates over plans to redraw school boundary lines for Sunset Hills, Swanson and Loveland Elementary Schools.
But on Monday, there was little animosity over the school’s future. Parents greeted one another and caught up as they dug through the brick pile, swapped tales of the old school and got a quick glimpse of the new version that will open in less than two months.
“We’ve got to keep our schools up-to-date,” said Jill Dietrich, a mother of four with two daughters, Cora and Louise, who currently attend Sunset Hills.
Kris Greenwald’s daughter, Grace, will be a sixth-grader at Sunset in the fall. The look of the new school got a thumbs-up from Grace, but Kris said she still wanted a piece of the old building, including a brick for her father, former Westside Superintendent Jim Tangdall. He worked in the district for more than three decades.
“He tells many a story about the passionate Sunset Hills community fighting to keep this school open when they were trying to close it,” Greenwald said.
Even out-of-towners got in on the action. Greenwald grabbed a brick for her niece’s boyfriend, a Sunset Hills alumnus who now lives in San Francisco. And Amanda and Nick Steinbrink, who now live in Wichita, are in town for the College World Series and swung by to nab a few bricks for Nick’s parents and his sister. Amanda attended Oakdale Elementary, but Nick went to Sunset Hills and remembers climbing up on the gym roof.
Not everyone was quite so sentimental. Jack Green’s kids attended the school years ago, but he loaded up the back of his pickup with bricks he plans to use for future Boy Scouts projects. The kids in his troop have graduated from building birdhouses, and Green wanted some old bricks so they could practice bricklaying or maybe build a fire pit.
Chris Vincentini’s wife went to Sunset Hills, but he went to Oakdale, which was also recently rebuilt. He grabbed a brick from there during demolition and a few from Sunset Hills.
Most people said they didn’t know what they would do with their bricks — maybe they would place them in a garden, or maybe they would gather dust in a garage. They’d figure it out eventually.
“I just wanted to make sure we all had a piece of the old school,” Vincentini said.
An open house for the new school is scheduled Aug. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m.