April 9 marked a wonderful day for the Clinton School District and the Clinton community as a whole.
On that day, the school district broke ground on what will become Clinton Middle School, a building that will house all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the Clinton district, with those students coming from Washington and Lyons middle schools. A $21 million project, it will be paid for by local option sales tax revenue.
This merging actually has been many years in the making as Clinton’s school boards over the decades have worked to upgrade facilities at all buildings. It wasn’t always a smooth process — taking referendum questions to voters is dicey. In fact, it was just before I started at the Herald as an education reporter in 1995 that an $11 million bond referendum for schools was quashed at the polls.
Covering those Clinton School Board meetings in those early years — as well as taking tours of and doing stories about the district’s buildings — helped me to understand what the district was going through when it came to space and student-teacher needs.
Apparently, more and more Clinton residents also came to understand what work needed to be done and agreed on how to start the process. They showed their support when approving a bond referendum in late 1997 to upgrade Whittier Elementary School and renovate and reopen the former Gateway Junior High building, which became Bluff Elementary School. Longfellow was closed and demolished, its students moved to Bluff along with students from Henry Sabin Elementary School.
They were the first steps in a facilities task force plan sent to the Clinton School Board earlier that year. The plan was to reduce the number of elementary schools, and then address middle school needs, although those plans hadn’t taken shape yet.
More changes happened as well, much of it as the result of the passage of the local option sales tax in 2001. The new Jefferson and Eagle Heights elementary schools were built and opened. Other buildings — Horace Mann and Elijah Buell — closed, as did Harding in 2003. That building was shuttered due to budget cuts and declining enrollment.
Looking back, it might appear it was an effortless transition, one of easily moving students and teachers alike out of their classrooms and into new digs.
Nothing is ever that easy. Emotions run high, schedules get thwarted, wrinkles have to get ironed out.
But here we are. Sixteen years after that facilities plan was presented and elementary school needs addressed, work is being done to get the district’s middle-schoolers under one, new roof.
There are a lot of people who played a role in making this happen.
Kudos to district officials and the Facilities Task Force members who laid the groundwork and saw the plans through.
We at the Herald also want to give a thumbs up to administrators and teachers who throughout the last few years have created combined programs, both in the classroom and on the sports fields, to bring the Washington and Lyons students together so they could start to enjoy and benefit from the unity about to happen.
Yes, there will be those who are critical of spending money on a new building, or changing from how things use to be, but this is money spent on the future — the children of this community.
Is there a better investment than that?
Charlene Bielema has been with the Clinton Herald since 1995 and has been the Herald’s editor since 2002.