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Think before replacing Clinton High School

The Aug. 28 issue of The Clinton Herald has an article about plans for Clinton High School that bothers me.

To start with, what might be seen as a minor discrepancy in that it says that it was constructed 100 years ago – well, not exactly. One hundred years ago in 1919, a referendum was held so the voters could choose between five proposed sites. That is when the 8th Avenue site was chosen, (Coan’s field). The school did not open until the school year 1921-1922 and it was not finished then.

In 1968, an arsonist burned the building. The floors in the building are concrete and were described in The Clinton Herald as not damaged. After removing the third floor the remainder of the building was rebuilt, presumably according to the requirements of that time, not 100 years ago.

On Nov. 25, 1968, the Clinton Herald reported that “Clinton High School with a new roof, completely remodeled and refurbished interior and a modern addition will make it comparable to any new high school in America.” Based on that, one could say that the Clinton High School building is 51 years of age, not 100.

Having said that, the Vernon Cook Theater opened in 1972 and the proposal is to tear down that structure as well. In addition, the Industrial Arts building, which dates to the 1950s, would come down, so it is certainly not very accurate to characterize this project as one that will tear down a 100-year building, since nothing to be torn down is that old.

One reason given to tear down the school is because it has 38 external doors. Well of course any of these doors that are not needed could be closed so that they can only be opened remotely by the central office, much like the doors in the new jail.

With the advent of Bluetooth wireless connection, there is no need to drill holes in the wall for computers or wi-fi. I suspect that the energy savings claimed could be achieved with LED lighting replacing the existing lighting and improvements to insulation and the heating system, which happens all the time.

The article complains that the furniture in the school now is inadequate for a school today. It seems like the solution to that concern is to replace the furniture rather than tear down and replace the building.

Now as far as science labs are concerned, there has been a lot of talk about partnering with Pangaea, partnership that already exists to some degree. Certainly the partnership can be expanded to utilize the best of each facility.

Mention is made of clay walls. I don’t know of any clay walls in the building. Maybe that is in reference to the brick that is used in the building.

The statement is made that the district wants an environment that “our students can excel in.” Great goal. The article lists the ratings for schools by Zillow, which lists CHS as a 1, Clinton Middle School as a 2, and Northeast as a 6. Wait a minute, if age matters, why is the newest school in town a 2 compared with other schools.

If student achievement were related to the age of the building, how can it be the newest school in use is not very different than the oldest? I suspect that the difference can be explained by factors other than the age of the bricks and mortar.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Germany and visited Worms this past summer. The Eleonoren Gymnasium there dates to 1874 with the most recent part built in 1905. Their graduates who go there and pass the Arbitur (Exit Exam) go directly to graduate and professional school rather than first spending four years in undergraduate school as is necessary here.

In 1900, CHS required all students to study German all four years of High School and in addition offered French, Latin and Classical Greek. I am suggesting that the important thing a school can offer is programming rather than buildings.

Clinton is infected with the virus that leads to the feeling that every school should be replaced every generation. There is a reason why the US, in spite of spending a higher percentage of its GNP on education than any one else, comes in 35th or 40th in international comparison.

The answer one usually gets here is that we educate everyone, which suggests that countries like Germany do not have universal education – which they do. Of course they do have the Gymnasium, which is for students who plan on education after the Gymnasium, and the Real Schule, which has students who have a more vocational curriculum. We have that by another name. When I was at Clinton High, we had some students who had a college prep curriculum while others had wood shop, metal shop, etc.

This community needs to have an open discussion about what we are – and are not – achieving and why.

Michael J. Kearney, Clinton