L.O. Jacob Elementary was showing plenty of life Thursday for a school on its last legs.

It had nothing to do with the kids. School let out Wednesday. This was the adults' doing. Scores of teachers, aides and other workers gathered at the 79-year-old Coon Rapids school to help its own staff shut it down, at least in its current form.

Along with the activity was an air of wistfulness. L.O. Jacob is one of eight schools being closed or given new roles by the Anoka-Hennepin district in an effort to save money and cut down an abundance of unused classroom space.

The school will remain in use but in a new form. It will become a center for special education students and will be known as River Trail Learning Center at L.O. Jacob. The student population will be much lower than the current 350 kindergarten-through-fifth graders. The school's current principal, most of its staff, and students will scatter to other schools.

On Thursday, staff members in district schools that aren't closing fanned out to help their colleagues at L.O. Jacob, four other elementary schools, a middle school and two kindergarten centers that are either shutting down or turning into something different next year. L.O. Jacob Principal Anissa Cravens estimated that 100 such visitors came to the school for the huge cleanup chore.

By mid-morning, boxes labeled with their new destinations were stacked everywhere. Boxes of bagels and every conceivable flavor of cream cheese sat on a table near an industrial size coffee pot. There had already been a shortage of boxes, but 200 more were on the way.

"They somewhat underestimated what teachers with 25 or 30 years of experience have in the closets," Cravens said. One worker wondered where the overhead projectors go. Another wandered around looking for the restroom.

"This is just organized chaos," Cravens said as her walkie-talkie-type phone squawked with questions. "The teachers have never done anything like this before. But by now most people seem to have a groove going."

'A pretty sad day'

But there was still plenty of raw emotion lying just under the surface.

"It's a pretty sad day," said first-grade teacher Janet Schoppe. "I've been here 23 years, and they've been 23 good years."

How could she forget the time a 12-point buck came crashing through the windows and she had to usher her calm but bemused children out of the classroom?

Down the hall, Mary Gillson, a first-grade teacher from Adams Elementary in Coon Rapids, was assigned to help L.O. Jacob first-grade teacher Colleen Maxwell. "I was glad I got to help Colleen because Colleen and I have been such good friends," she said.

Cravens said much of the angst over the closing came Wednesday as the staff and the students parted. Today will also be tough because it's the last day for the staff members, who must still finish their grading and report cards. Thursday was the day to put that all aside.

"These are team players," Cravens said of her staff and their colleagues-helpers. "But this is a tough day. You can see that, emotionally, this is a raw day, but they're troupers."

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547