BILLERICA — "Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again," Peter, Paul and Mary sing over the school's loudspeakers.
In the main office, Eugene C. Vining Elementary School Principal Christine Gibelli stands silent, her face hidden as she holds the phone playing 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' into the speaker. A teacher had asked for the song to be played.
The school's hallways are quiet.
Outside, the teachers stand in a circle, teary-eyed but smiling. They have just finished saying goodbye to their students. Now it is time to say goodbye to the building and each other.
Tuesday was the last day of school in Billerica, and for Vining Elementary School, Tuesday was the last day in service as a school. The school is closing and, in July, the town's recreation department will move in.
"Oh babe, I hate to go." The song fills the empty building.
In the main office, Gibelli listens to the song; processing.
It hasn't sunk in yet, she said.
The Vining School was built in 1957. It was named for Eugene C. Vining, who was a teacher and then a principal at Howe High School before being appointed Superintendent in 1915. According to Gibelli, Vining studied at Andover Theological Seminary and assisted Helen Keller when she was preparing to take Radcliffe College's entrance exam.
The school is small. This year's enrollment was 180 students, but the Vining's size is also what makes it special.
"There is something about being a smaller school," Superintendent Tim Piwowar said. "It's easier to make those personal connections."
Parent Jacqui Chaffins would agree. Her son Alex Chaffins has been attending Vining for two years.
"It's this tiny little community but everyone just cares so much," Chaffins said.
She shared how, earlier that day, Gibelli asked how everything was going with an ongoing matter and told Chaffins to reach out if she needed anything over the summer.
Chaffins choked up.
"I'm so sad that this is closing," she said.
Looking at the teachers and administrators juggling flowers and cards as they gave out hugs and posed for photos with students, Chaffins said she is thankful they will stay in the district.
Gibelli will become Parker Elementary School's new principal, taking over for Suzanne Sullivan who accepted a position out of district, Piwowar said. Some teachers will be going to Kennedy Elementary School and others will head to Ditson Elementary School.
Beloved Administrative Assistant Nancy Brewster will move to Locke Middle School.
On Tuesday she was able to confirm the good news. It is met with excited gasps from the young students who went to the main office to inquire about her plans. One little boy is so excited he runs circles in the lobby.
The breaking up of the Vining team is what makes the closure so difficult.
"The teachers a the Vining have really walked strongly with each other," said second-grade teacher Ilona Sewell.
After 29 years of teaching, Sewell is retiring. She won't miss the early mornings or paperwork she said, but seeing students learn to read and overcome obstacles will be hard to let go; as will the people.
"I'll never have a first day here again, I'll never have a last day here again," she said, her voice thick with emotion.
At 9 a.m on Tuesday, the school gathered outside for its last assembly, where Sewell's students presented her with paper frogs. Years ago she began using frogs as a way to teach fiction and nonfiction and ever since her students have been giving her frog-themed gifts.
As much as the last day of school at the Vining was a celebration, it was also a day of grieving.
"I don't know how we're going to walk out of the building today," said Sewell. "I don't know how we're going to say goodbye to something that's been part of our life."
Sitting in the principal's conference room wearing a bright blue "Vining Shines" T-shirt, Sewell captured the reason behind the celebration and the heartache.
"It's an interesting profession, because you're all in," she said.
Follow Emma R. Murphy on Twitter @MurphReports.