Pupils across the city will be uprooted beginning next school year to make way for construction workers.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Parents huddle under umbrellas on the sidewalk outside Taft Elementary School.
The intersection at Boston Avenue and Gibson Street in this quiet residential neighborhood on the city's South Side fills with school buses, cars and parents.
School is out.
Girls and boys dash through the raindrops and into the arms of waiting parents.
They tote brightly colored Barney and Elmo backpacks, shout "Bye!" to their friends and fade into the surrounding neighborhood of neatly lined homes.
"I always love watching 'em get out of school," Hadley Harmacar, 65, said outside while waiting for her grandson to exit the building. "There's always so much activity."
After this school year, activity at Boston Avenue and Gibson Street will involve bulldozers and construction workers rather than lunch boxes and kids.
Taft Elementary School, built in 1921, will be demolished when school lets out in June.
Kicking it off: Construction of a new school on the same site, the first phase of the school district's $173 million facilities project, should begin this fall and be finished for the start of the 2004-05 school year.
In the meantime, Taft's 320 pupils will go to Bennett Elementary School, about 10 blocks away. The Taft-to-Bennett transfer is part of a complex game of musical chairs the school district has devised to keep pupils in class and construction workers on schedule over the five- to seven-year span of the facilities project.
Bennett pupils will transfer to the former Princeton Junior High School about 11/2 miles away. Pupils at Harding Elementary School on the North Side will go to the former Jefferson Elementary School in Brier Hill. Eventually, pupils from Williamson Elementary School on the South Side also will go to Bennett.
East Middle School pupils also could be on the move. Further down the road, pupils at Kirkmere, Sheridan and North elementary schools and Volney Rogers Junior High School also could be temporarily relocated.
Seeking support: School officials concede the relocations will require a certain amount of adjustment for teachers, children and parents, but they're confident problems will be few.
"We really need the community to support this and look at it as a temporary inconvenience," said Anthony DeNiro, the school district's director of administrative services.
DeNiro continues meeting with teachers and staff at the affected schools to outline plans for the transfers.
Karen Clayton, Taft principal, said her main job during the transition will be to "keep a calm head and cool composure."
"I'm actually looking forward to it," she said from the school last week. "I find it challenging and exciting. I really am very optimistic about it. I think it will be a smooth transition."
Thinking of big picture: Beverly Schumann, Harding principal, said she is encouraging children, parents and teachers not to be distracted by the changes over the next two years and instead to keep their eyes focused on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: a new, state-of-the-art school.
"They've been very responsive and very willing to help and work in any way they can to make the transition as easy as possible," she said. "Everyone's been very understanding of why we have to be in one place while they build the new place."
Because of the school system's recent history of school closings, Schumann said most teachers have experienced moving from one building to another.
"I was at John White [Elementary School] for 10 years and then it was closed," she said. "So, we packed up there and went over to North [Elementary School]. And there were Lincoln [Elementary School] teachers that packed up and moved.
"So, the teachers are kind of used to doing that. But we haven't really essentially moved kids like we're going to be doing, and that's where it gets tricky."
DeNiro said he hopes to get Bennett teachers into Princeton and Harding teachers into Jefferson some time this spring and start moving some nonessential items into the buildings before the end of the school year.
"So, when school's out, teachers will know what room assignments they have," he said.
Glad for the space: Harry Evans, the district's maintenance chief, said the school system is fortunate to have Princeton and Jefferson schools to temporarily house pupils. Otherwise, the district would be scrambling to find space. "No doubt about that," he said.
The district closed Jefferson Elementary in 1997 and sold it to an Akron-based church, which still owns it. The school district will lease the building, DeNiro said.
Princeton closed in 1995, and the district leased the building to Calvary Christian Academy until June 2001.
Evans said work crews are painting the interior of Princeton, refurbishing the boilers, repairing floors and patching roof leaks in preparation for reopening the school in the fall.
"The building's in good shape," Evans said. "The building was not in disarray. We just want, like any of our buildings, to go through and paint it and make some routine maintenance repairs.
"It's easier to do it now with nobody in the building than when you get students in there."