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Exceptional School Receives Historic Designation

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The teachers and students of the Westchester Exceptional Children’s School (WEC), along with town dignitaries and guests, heard some of the history of North Salem’s schools last Friday when the building at 520 Route 22, now known as the WEC School, was declared a North Salem Historic Landmark.

Francis Tuoti, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission , described the area's 18th century one-room school houses. “One room and one teacher, teaching all ages and all subjects,” he said. “And not so much pay. In fact, they couldn’t afford to own or rent a house. They spent each night at a different student’s house.” At the end of the cycle, they started again. “So you got to know them very well!”

In the 1920s there were so many little schools in the vicinity that the idea for a central high school was proposed. It was the first central school district in the state of New York. Construction started in 1927. The architects, Knappe and Morris, designed the much-admired Mamaroneck High School and the Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose. The new North Salem Central School, at 520 Route 22 in Purdys, covered grades seven through 12.

Eventually, North Salem outgrew the Purdys school. In 1982 the building was sold and became the WEC school, a non-for-profit tax-exempt school focused on meeting the educational, social and emotional needs of children who are autistic, medically fragile, or prone to communication and behavior disorders too difficult to be dealt with in the public education system.

John Caralyus, vice president of the WEC board, spoke of the school’s history in the Purdys building and a few of its unusual architectural characteristics. Describing the student body of WEC, he said, “We have children from as far away as Port Jervis, the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Chappaqua, Connecticut and Brooklyn,” he said. “We have about 90 students, ranging in age from five to 21. We graduate six to eight children each year. Many go on to jobs.”

Caralyus described the school’s cafe, where students learn some of the aspects of preparing and serving food and how to operate a cash register. He spoke also of the school’s model apartment, where students learn to do household tasks.

“We owe our success to the generosity of many people,” he said. “This is a fantastic building and we appreciate what North Salem has done for us.”

Historic Preservation Vice Chairman Bruce Buchholtz presented a plaque which will be mounted on the front of the school, “to say that this is indeed a special building.”

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