The Early Years
The first public school in Lake Ronkonkoma was built at Five Corners in 1812 and was originally called the Lakeville School and then Lake Grove. Its first teacher, Louis Gould, was paid $10 per quarter and was boarded with the families of his students. A two-room schoolhouse was built in 1859 and was staffed by two teachers — a woman who would teach the younger children and a man to handle the older students. The school taught grades 1-8. There were recess periods in both the morning and afternoon when children played games like baseball, ring-a-levio, prisoner’s base and haley-over. Although they were not supposed to leave school grounds, on hot days a few of the boys would sneak down to the lake, strip off their clothes and go for a swim.
The two-room school was replaced in 1912 with a new four-room structure built closer to the village on School Street. The old school was converted into a basketball court for the town teams by the Lake Grove Athletic Club. Eventually it was cut in half and made into two houses, one of which burned down but the other still stands on Smith Road near Five Corners. The new school served the community well until January 4, 1946 when it was destroyed in an arson fire. For two years, students in Lake Ronkonkoma had to be bused to Lake Grove School on Parsnip Pond Road. The cornerstone for Gatelot Avenue School was laid in 1947 and the school opened to students in the fall of 1948. Walter C. Dunham, the principal at the old elementary school, was Gatelot's first principal. He later became superintendent of the Sachem District, Long Island's largest school district.
Gatelot Avenue's Construction
Gatelot Avenue was the first post-World War II school built on Long Island and incorporated some new ideas about school construction, particularly the idea of a self-contained school room (including running water and a bathroom). The architect for the school was Daniel Perry. General contractors were Lowe Construction Co. Inc., while Pierre S. Olsen Co. handled the heating system, Fred S. Robbins Inc. the plumbing and Charles A. Mulligan, electrical. The cost of the original school, which included the main cafeteria/gym building, the physical plant and one wing of classrooms was $355,000.
The new school was officially dedicated at an evening ceremony on Nov. 17, 1948. The program included selections from the school's orchestra and glee club as well as an invocation from Rev. Charles T. Goetz; a welcoming address from Board of Education President Philip L. Hans; presentation of the key to the building from George Lowe, general contractor; acceptance of the key by John R. Palmer; speeches by school superintendent Walter M. Ormsby; school principal Walter C. Dunham; and Dr. William K. Wilson of the State Education Department. A bust of custodian Thomas Fish was presented to his son by the PTA President Mrs. John Sevenliss and the evening ended with a benediction by Rev. Howard Clinebell.
Reprinted from Remembering Gatelot Avenue School—The First 50 Years.
The Gatelot Avenue Elementary School 50th Jubilee Committee. June 14,1999.
Home of Waddles the Duck
Gatelot Avenue School