Residents tour Amelia Elementary

In order to highlight the specifics behind a bond issue push, the West Clermont School District invited members of the public to participate in a bond issue kickoff last week that included a tour of Amelia Elementary School, the district’s oldest and most needy school building.

Built in 1931, the structure has existed as a centerpiece for the village well over 70 years, but has lived past its usefulness as a modern center of learning.

“I think I have the most wonderful job in the world,” said Amelia Elementary Principal Stephanie Walker. “Every day, I have approximately 700 students walk through my doors. You’ve had the opportunity to walk through the hallways of my building. You got to see the small spaces. Our children come here every day. They have a love for learning, and I get emotional just knowing what they have to endure every day. If you walk away with one thought in mind, it should be that our children deserve an efficient, modern and technology-sound environment. I hope that that will be what happens.”

The bond issue will be for 2.5 mills that will rebuild four of the district’s elementary schools; Amelia, Brantner, Summerside and Withamsville-Tobasco. A similar bond issue was defeated last year, mainly – said West Clermont officials – because of an attachment to make improvements to athletic fields at the Amelia and Glen Este high schools.

During the ceremony last week, officials from the district and other speakers focused on the need for improved facilities that can offer the best of what modern education can utilize.

“This old structure holds a lot of memories for a lot of people,” said West Clermont Schools Superintendent Dr. Gary Brooks. “Schools hold lots of memories, because schools are the vessels of hopes and dreams for kids. Every generation must step forward to help the generation that comes after them. Young people need resources to move forward into a world we will not see. This building doesn’t support more than one electric outlet in a classroom. On hot muggy days, you have to decide whether to turn the lights on, the fan on or one computer on or run an overhead projector. These aren’t conditions ideal for building the leaders of tomorrow.”

Amelia Mayor Mark Menz spoke of the village’s goal to grow, and stressed how important a good school is to the growth of any area, be it a town, city or county. Menz also spoke from experience about the necessity to make schools friendly to sick and disabled children. Menz said that one of his daughters was unable to attend the school because her cancer prevented her from climbing the stairs. Despite that personal interest, he said, the idea was to support schools no matter what your connection.

“Some may support it because their kids go to the school, and that may be why some others won’t support it, they don’t have kids here,” said Menz. “Schools are one of the top things that people look for when looking for a place to live. Amelia has been one of the fastest growing communities in the county. Fortunately, people look beyond the facility and at the staff. People without kids think they shouldn’t support the levies, but my way of thinking is we owe it to our future kids, grandkids and great grandkids to support the schools.”

Clermont County historian Rick Crawford supported Menz’s position by describing some of the advancements that past graduates from Amelia have made. One Amelia student, John Wageman, earned the congressional medal of honor during the civil war. Frank Lillich set a 25-year county basketball record after scoring 45 points in a game, and Amelia set a state record with 45 consecutive wins in basketball. Other notable graduates included Roy Temple House, an international author; Wayne Fitzpatrick, who designed the US Navy’s first guided nuclear missile ship; Gary Pollitt, who designed a portion of the Mars Observer; and Steve Minton, a doctor who performed the world’s first successful separation of conjoined twins who were joined at the brain.

Jo Ann Beamer, a West Clermont School District Board Member, said that the message simply boiled down to the value of a quality education.

“Our message is very simple, we need your help,” said Beamer. “Our children – your children – need your help. We need to provide quality schools for quality education. If a school needs to be replaced, it’s this one, and after this one it’s Withamsville. This is so important, I can’t tell you the urgency of this bond issue. This is the beginning of a district-wide plan, the other buildings will also be replaced. This is about our children. We must educate our children, and have schools that are conducive to effective learning. All of our children will benefit.”

Other officials noted additional reasons for passing the bond issue, including Clermont Chamber of Commerce President Matt Van Sant who said that good schools are a vital tool to economic development, and Amy Sheafer, who is a co-chair of the bond issue campaign, who said that residents will either be faced with taking pride in the schools they helped build or the shame of association with the crumbling schools they helped preserve.

Dr. Brooks demonstrated it by holding up a handheld slate chalkboard used by the students when the school was first built, like the slate chalkboards that are still in use by the school today.

“We talk about what’s going on in buildings like this, where this day there are six sump pumps running continually,” said Brooks. “The classrooms that were once bright and sunny, two-thirds of the windows were shut down in the ’80s for energy, and now they are caverns of fluorescent lights that hum all day. This school has become a place which is not a place of inspiration. It’s a place of perspiration and demotivation for our children, and that is not right. As you drive by, is this a building you take pride in? Is this a building that kids can become competitive and technologically savvy in? New schools use electronic boards that link kids to the future, but this is place where we use slate boards that bind people to the past. Is it right for any kid to be in a building that impedes their education? Why do we stand for that? It’s a time to move forward. When we were children, what has become known as the greatest generation stepped forward and helped build these facilities. It’s time for the latest generation to do that as well.”