Small Town School Closing its Doors After 144 Years

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WALNUT, Iowa -- While metro schools make decisions to meet growing student populations, some schools in Iowa are facing a much harder decision.

Just last week, the Waukee School District approved a land purchase for a second high school. But it’s the exact opposite for the town of Walnut, closing its schools’ doors after 144 years.

The Iowa census estimates 776 people live in Walnut, 121 fewer people than what it says on the sign that greets you. It’s a statistic reflected in the lone school.

“Too many times schools are academically bankrupt before they are financially bankrupt, and that's certainly the position Walnut was in,” said Superintendent Jesse Ulrich.

The Walnut Community School District has seen a dramatic drop in enrollment over the past five years, with 171 students in 2010 and just 72 students in 2015.

That’s why the school that has taught students since 1872 is closing its doors to merge with the neighboring AHST Community School District.

“It's never going be the same. I just hope the town itself can survive without the school,” said Walnut resident Donna Harris-Heiny.

The school's been the focal point for many years.

Pictures of the graduating class line the hallways in the school, all the way from 1899 to 2014. Now, people who have learned and worked at the school are starting to feel the emotions of it closing down.

“My kids have graduated from the school. Some of my grandkids graduated from the school. So, there are a lot of mixed emotions. I hate to see it close,” said former student and teacher Marie Livengood.

Livengood came to Walnut in kindergarten and graduated 1976. She's now retiring from a long teaching career at the school she calls home.

“I've known all of these kids since they've been little, and it finally hit me: I needed to spend time with them because this is it,” she said.

And students know change won’t be easy.

“Leaving Walnut is going to be kind of a challenge because we have small classes. We only have eight kids in our class. Next year there's going to be about 30 to 35 kids,” said Madison Heiny.

But it will be a change that’s bigger than class sizes.

“I've had some of them bugging me about, 'You're going to be in Avoca right?' And no I’m not, and it’s been a learning thing for them. I think when you tell them, that that's when it finally sinks into them that this is it. When I walk out on Friday I’m done. It’s hard,” Heiny said.

The school is being gifted to the city. It will now become a community center.

As part of the deal, the school needs to tear down a portion of the school that has been standing since the 1950s.

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