SAUGUS — The halls of a restored historic former elementary school once slated for demolition have been decked for Christmas once again.
“There’s a lot of Christmas spirit here,” said Janice Jarosz, president of the Marlah E. Graves (MEG) Foundation, a group of volunteers that preserve and maintain the large brick building on Essex Street.
About 50 trees adorn the halls of the former school, some decorated with ornaments, others with gift cards and other donated items.
The Artisan Workshop tree is adorned with pens, pencils, and markers, the Veterans Elementary School PTO tree is topped with a Mickey Mouse piñata, and nips of alcohol hang from the branches of another.
Throughout the month, there will be a live nativity scene, music, and characters walking about. Each tree will be raffled off to raise money for the foundation.
The building served as an elementary school until 1980. After that, North Shore Education Consortium moved in until about 1990. During this time, the layout was changed, new walls divided large classrooms, and wooden antique doors were replaced with steel ones. Once the school relocated, the building sat idle and was at risk of being torn down. It was littered with graffiti and dead birds when the foundation got their hands on it, said Jarosz.
“When I first went in, it was full of pigeons,” said Jarosz. “A lot of people didn’t think we could do it. A group of us got together and looked around and said ‘we can do this.’ Another group told us we couldn’t. That’s when we decided we had to.”
The foundation received a $50,000 Good Neighbor grant from General Electric that covered a new gas system for heat, new windows, and new electrical system. Money for the remainder of the work, about $250,000, was raised by Saugus residents, said Jarosz.
The antique windows were removed and sold to raise money for the project, she said.
More than a decade after the major rehab project began, there are still additional tasks on the to-do list. Most importantly, Jarosz said the foundation’s board wants to make the building handicap accessible with a lift, which would cost about $22,000.
The alternative, an elevator, would cost $100,000, said Jarosz.
The Festival of Trees is the foundation’s primary cash source of the year. The money goes toward keeping the lights on and other expenses, which are all funded by the group of volunteers. The biggest expense, said Jarosz, is heating the former school, which was built in 1892.
“During some cold winters, (the bill) has been $10,000,” she said.
The festival began eight years ago with about 30 trees and now tops more than 50, which line each classroom. Gift baskets and other prizes are also donated by local residents and businesses.
Opening weekend will be Dec. 7-9, 3-8 p.m. It will also be open Dec. 14, 6-8 p.m., and Dec. 15, 5-8 p.m.
Raffle tickets are being sold for $1 each, $3 for 5, $10 for 15, or $20 for 25. It is free to attend the festival and view the creations.
A winning ticket will be pulled for each tree, and the trees will be picked up by the winners on Dec. 16.