Nordale Elementary (1953-2022)
School Mascot: Tiger
School Colors: Orange and Black
School Motto: Where Excellence is Expected
- 1953-1958 | Nathan Chaney
- 1958-1986 | Emily Kemak
- 1981-1982 | Bob Curran
- 1986-1987 | Stan Lujan
- 1987-1992 | Percy Houts
- 1992-1998 | Jeff Selvey
- 1998-2009 | Barbara Burch
- 2009-2022 | Brian Powell
History of Nordale Elementary
Nordale Elementary School's namesake, Hjalmar Nordale, played an important role in early Fairbanks history. Born the eldest of seven children to Anton J. and Matilda Anderson Nordale, Hjalmar accompanied his parents north during the Gold Rush days. Settling first in Dawson, the family then moved to the Interior, building a hotel in Cleary. In 1908, the family moved to Fairbanks and built the Nordale Hotel on First Avenue, where the Bicentennial Park is now located.
The children enrolled in Fairbank schools; subsequently, Hjalmar went on to become a member of the first accredited graduating class of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. After completing a year of military service, Hjalmar returned to Fairbanks in 1919 to become a reporter for the News-Miner and, later, the editor. In 1930, he joined Pacific Alaska Airways, a fast growing company that was to become Pan American. Four years later, he took over management of the New Nordale Hotel upon the death of his brother Alton. This hotel, built on the site of the E.R. Peoples store on Second Avenue, opened in 1923 and served as a hub of Fairbanks activity. President Warren G. Harding was the new hotel's first guest.
In 1926, Hjalmar married LaDessa Hall, then professor of business administration at UAF, and they raised one son. Like his father and brother before him, Hjalmar became involved in politics, serving three terms as city mayor, three years as city councilman, and two terms as territorial senator in Juneau.
Mr. Nordale died of a heart attack in January 1952, one year before the opening of the school named for him. Pan-American Airlines dropped his ashes over the family homestead on Badger Road. When asked why the school was named for her husband, the late Mrs. LaDessa Nordale said, "He was a good man; that is why your school was named after him."
Construction & Flood of 1967
Nordale Elementary School, located on the corner of Hamilton and Eureka Avenues in Hamilton Acres, was built in 1953 to meet the needs of the growing Fairbanks population. Designed by Lee S. Linck of Alaska Architectural and Engineer Company and built by the firm of Reed and Martin, the ultra-modern school stood in stark contrast to the muddy roads that wound through Hamilton Acres to the school's doors.
When Nordale first opened, there were only nine classrooms serving kindergarten through seventh grade students. By 1956, the population increase made it necessary to add an additional wing of classrooms. A gymnasium was also added at this time. Nordale could brag of being the first elementary school in Fairbanks to have a library, a beautiful facility with built-in shelves. Unfortunately, books and shelves were destroyed in the 1967 flood. The Nordale PTA and concerned parents helped replace both, and also purchased a "carpet cake" (circular bench) that students enjoy sitting on during library time. The flood also filled the bottom floor of Nordale, causing extensive damage to the floors, equipment, and classrooms of the lower level and to the gym. The Corps of Engineers was called in to remove the water and prepare the school for next school year.
Nordale's playground has also changed over the years. In the beginning, the playground was limited to a couple swing sets, a few slides, and an ice rink. A few years later, a merry-go-round and a running barrel were added. After much use, the merry-go-round broke down and was removed. In 1984, whirling tire swings and wooden towers were added. A year later, sawdust was put under this equipment for the safety of the children. Two years later, the wooden barrel was taken out because students continued to crush fingers while using it. Springboards were also taken out when children continued to fall from them, but fenced-in tennis courts were added to the play yard.
When Nordale opened its doors in 1953, a staff of 10 teachers was all that was necessary to meet the needs of students in grades K-7. In the years that followed, Nordale would experience such a population growth that double shifting became necessary. The 1958-59 and 1960-61 school years found students and teachers attending school in morning and afternoon shifts. From 1961-1984, Nordale provided education for 500-700 students each year. From 1976 to 2022, Nordale's population has been between 400-500 students, with most being drawn from Hamilton Acres, Island Homes, Slaterville, Garden Island, and Graehl neighborhoods.
Despite extensive efforts to keep the school safe and well-maintained, the School Board determined that the building had fulfilled its function over a half-century of serving the neighborhood's children. In October 2002, a bond was passed for the construction of a new school, which began in the spring of 2004 while students still attended the old school. Unlike larger district elementary schools, the new Nordale was built according to a smaller prototype design that was also used to replace Denali Elementary. The new school has a capacity for approximately 400 students in 49,000 square feet. The $15.1 million project was completed in 2005.
School Closure & Repurpose
After 10 years of declining enrollment in the school district, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Education voted in spring of 2022 to close and repurpose Nordale Elementary. Nordale students were distributed to surrounding neighborhood schools and the building itself was repurposed to house alternative learning programs such as BEST Homeschool, eLearning, SMART, and others. The building is now unofficially known as Nordale Education Center.
Source: Fairbanks Area Public Schools, 2004
A. Hjalmar Nordale
Nordale Elementary School in 1964. (Courtesy of the Doris Southall Collection)
Exterior of the original Nordale School in 2004.
Construction of the "new" Nordale begins, 2004.