Thursday, October 5, 2017

These Old Walkin' Shoes: Be Cool To Your School

We had open house at Emmet Belknap Wednesday night for our sixth grader. I went over, meeting Wendy and Corliss there so we could see her classroom and revisit the school I once went to. Today, the school is home to the Lockport City School District’s fifth and sixth grades. Back when I went there, it was a little bit different. It was a true junior high school then.

In the 28 years since I was a student at Emmet Belknap, much has changed. And much has stayed the same. From September 1986 until June 1989, I attended the school as a 7th, 8th and 9th grader. When we graduated in June to the high school and sophomore year, the new freshmen came with us. I was a member of the last 9th grade class to rule the halls at Emmet Belknap.

Walking up to the building is exactly the same as it was on that warm September morning in 1986 when I trudged up those steep concrete steps as a student for the first time. In my opinion, Emmet Belknap school is the most quintessential and beautiful school building in the district. The front layout is exactly what you expect to see in movies and television shows. And we have it right here in Lockport.

Most of the layout is nearly the same as it was back when I was a kid. They have changed the cafeteria to a whole new addition at the southeast corner of the building. In my time, it was in the front, northwest corner of the school, with a sloping walkway down to the cafeteria from the gym hall. They’ve leveled out that walkway and there are no steps to get into what are now classrooms where the old cafeteria was located.

The new lunchroom is bright and vibrant. Large windows allow a lot of natural light into the great room. The lunch stations look new and polished, and there is enough room where everyone is not too crowded when eating. Back in the old cafeteria, there were times it was pretty full in there. When you wanted to get ice cream or cookies, the snack bar was tucked away in a room under the stairs. No more. Everything is wide open.

As part of that addition, there is a whole new wing of classrooms. Again, they are bright and vibrant. These are the classrooms you would want if you were a student there now. They are far more comfortable than the old rooms. Especially these days.

I understand that it is an expensive proposition to keep a school running. However, one should not walk into a classroom in a school in Lockport, where we pay a lot in taxes, and see major water damage on the walls and ceilings. Nor should we see paint peeling from the walls. In the older part of the building, this is exactly what I saw Wednesday night.

Far too often, it seems that the district will delay making repairs until the job is so costly that people complain about the money needed. And it’s not just Lockport School District. It’s everywhere. Making routine repairs will help lengthen the lifespan of the building. And in the long run, will be cheaper than the complete renovations that will need to take place if these problems are left to fester for decades.

One thing I will have to investigate further is if the district has a long range plan to meet these needs head on. Hopefully the plan is not to simply let the facilities rot and hope they can build a new one. Emmet Belknap is such an awesome building, it would be a tragedy if they decided to raze it and move on with a new building. It has so much character.

I’m proud to be an alumnus of Emmet Belknap. It pains me to see the shape she’s in in some corners of the building. While we were roaming the halls, I walked past my locker. Some girl named Mikayla has my locker now. And then I showed the girls my homeroom down in the basement level in the art wing. Mr. Stanley was my homeroom teacher for all three years I attended.

Up by the main doors, when Corliss wanted to take the stairs down to the gym, I told her that when I went to school there, we weren’t allowed to use those stairs. We had to use the ones at the end of the halls. It was probably because the girls’ locker room was at the bottom of the stairs. Boys should not be that close to the girls when they were changing into gym clothes.

While we were in the gym, IdaLena told me she used to hide in the doors where the moveable wall was stored that separated the gym into two sides. I laughed and told her I used to do the same thing. She looked at me weirdly like she was aware that Dad would do goofy things like that, too.

I love Emmet Belknap school. It was where I got my first girlfriend. I danced with my friend’s sister in the gym at one of the dances for my first slow dance. I learned archery in the small blue gym behind the big gym. We entered that school as children, and left as young adults. Those three years had a big impact on me.

It was pretty cool to roam the halls Wednesday and point out familiar sites to my kids. And they were more than happy to show me where they hang out in the school. All the teachers we met were awesome. Some, I even wish I had had as a student. Every time I walk up the circle to the front steps, I am enthralled by the bell tower and the majestic facade of Emmet Belknap School. As for the work needed to be done on the inside, maybe we can get our school on “Pimp Our School.” Of course, Pimp Our School is not real, but it should be.

Craig Bacon went to Washington Hunt, Emmet Belknap, and Lockport High School. He has fond memories of all three buildings.