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Wayback Wednesday: 'So dark … the teacher had to suspend her work'

The city announced today that it will open 18 “new” school buildings next week with the start of the school year. A few are brand new construction. Others are adapted from use as government offices or Catholic schools; the two high schools moving into a renovated building on Adams Street in Downtown Brooklyn, for example, occupy an old family court building. And still others are annexes to existing schools: the buildings may be new, but the schools themselves are not. Despite their different provenances, however, all of the new schools are likely to provide suitable physical conditions for teaching and learning.

But what about the days when schools were disgusting? Not trash-in-the-halls gross, but diphtheria-inducing, reeking-of-dead-animals gross? Back in the late 1800s, that’s how Charles Wehrum, a member of the Board of Education, characterized the city’s 140 schools after surveying their conditions: