COVINGTON — The reality of a new school building is becoming more palpable for the Covington community as they came out Sunday to say goodbye to the closing elementary and middle schools.
“We’re just very grateful that our community had a chance to come out,” Covington Superintendent Gene Gooding said.
Retired teachers, former students, current staff and faculty members, and other members of the community had an opportunity to tour the schools as well as hear about the new PK-8 building that will be taking the place of these schools.
“The buildings have served the community for a long time, and it’s very important that we preserve the history of these buildings in our new facility,” Gooding said.
Gooding added that each of the open houses had a good turnout of people. “We had a great day,” Gooding said.
At the elementary school, approximately 100 current and retired teachers came together before the open house for the public. “We had an awesome turnout for that,” Kelly Gessner, first grade teacher and head of the open house committee, said.
“It’s really good for them to have a little bit of closure for the building,” Covington Elementary School Principal Rick Fry said.
Different displays had photo albums of past students and teachers along with Project Manager Steve Miller discussing the new PK-8 building and plans for the future.
“It’s good for the community,” Fry said.
For Gessner and many others, the elementary school holds many memories.
“It was my first job out of college,” Gessner said, who has been teaching there for 17 years. “It’s been a terrific experience, so I wanted to make sure it was honored.”
During the open house for the public, people had the opportunity to sign-up to purchase t-shirts or a Cat’s Meow replica of the old building. Visitors could also pay $1 to sign a part of the wall in the gymnasium, and the funds raised from that will go toward purchasing a new bench in the building’s honor at the new facility.
“It’s time for new memories,” Beth Humphrey, speech language pathologist and former student, said. Humphrey currently works at the elementary school, but she is also a life-long resident of Covington and the daughter of a former Covington Elementary School teacher who taught there 27 years.
Humphrey was at the open house speaking with her former teacher John Miller, who taught at the elementary school for 35 years.
“Covington treated me very well,” Miller said, commenting that the community was warm and caring toward him.
Humphrey and Miller recalled some of their favorite memories of the building, including talent shows and staff skits, pep rallies, walking kids to the Miami County Dairy, walking kids to the JR Clarke Library, and more. Even with those memories and the school spirit, they said the building is “tired.”
“The building is just old,” Miller said.
Miller and Humphrey commented that even though they may be sad to see the old building go, the community is doing what is best for the children of the Covington.
“The community pulls together a lot,” Miller said.
“Our true love is the children,” Humphrey said.
Over at the middle school, community members had the opportunity to tour that building as well and also watch a slide show presentation of photos from the school’s history taken from the 1930s up to 2016. The current middle school building operated as the community’s high school for 43 1/2 years before it became the middle school for 41 1/2 years.
“That’s 85 years of students coming through these doors,” seventh grade teacher Rose McMaken said. “It was a state-of-the-art building in 1931.”
McMaken commented that what stood out to her were the sacrifices that the community must have made to take on funding a new building project during the Great Depression. “That is just amazing to me,” she said. “Speaks volumes about the people who lived here.”
McMaken discussed numerous changes that the building has gone through, including adding on to the gymnasium and removing two former balconies. She explained that the school also had an orchestra, a home economics department with five separate kitchens, and an industrial technology area that has since become an art room and a band room.
“It’s my history,” retired teacher Dwane Runyan said, adding that this building was “where I made my living, where I raised my family.” Runyan taught vocational agriculture as well as junior high and senior high industrial education at the school for 28 years.
“It’s a neat old building,” Covington Middle School Principal Matt Pond said. “We’re moving into a brand-new building, and that’s equally exciting.”
Pond commented that he went through the middle school in the 1970s, and for him, the school stands for excellence.
“It represents to me a lot of pride in our community,” Pond said.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall