Consolidation is bound to happen

In recent years, the idea of school consolidation has been a hot button topic in the Northern Panhandle.

Hancock County currently is constructing a new elementary school in Weirton to replace three existing buildings. Previously, discussions about the possibility of consolidating the county’s two high schools took place, but were fought by many area residents.

Now, Brooke County is discussing the option of merging its two middle schools into one and all of the county’s primary schools into two.

I suppose in our area, which has experienced declining population and is always looking for ways to cover the increasing costs of various programs and operations, consolidation only makes sense.

Buildings, even when properly cared for, cannot last forever. It wouldn’t make sense to construct a new building to replace every single building currently in existence, especially if the number of students doesn’t justify it.

But it also is something the people of our area have some say in, as projects such as this usually rely on bond levies to be voted on by residents.

It can be tense sometimes when these issues are raised.

I remember when I was in the sixth grade and it was announced Brooke County would be merging its middle schools. That was putting all of the students from, I believe, five schools into two buildings.

Students from Edgewood, in Weirton, would join us at Follansbee Middle and all of the southern county middle schools would go to Wellsburg.

Many people were upset, students were nervous, none of us knew for sure how things would end up.

Fortunately it was fine in that case, especially since we realized we were only a few short years from all going to the same school anyway. It just gave us an early start on getting to know each other.

Many of us hold our school-day memories with fondness. They were simpler times, and yet we were raised to identify ourselves with pride where we attended school. I’ve been a Colliers Cub, a Follansbee Blue Wave, a Brooke Bruin and a West Liberty Hilltopper.

We wear our school colors and logos with pride and cheer against those from the rival schools.

It can be tough when we realize those days won’t happen for future generations. However, we also must remember those students will have similar pride for their own schools.

A little over 45 years ago, for example, there was no Brooke High School. There were multiple high schools in the county which, eventually, were consolidated. Today, residents from parts of Weirton to Follansbee to Wellsburg and Beech Bottom and Bethany all attend Brooke High. Most future students will never know about the rivalry between Follansbee and Wellsburg high schools.

Even school operations experience consolidation in their own way.

Some systems have traveling music or art teachers, for example. Other areas might reach across district and county lines to purchase materials or resources.

Many plans are going to be suggested in the next year in Brooke County. I’m sure proposals will be brought up in Hancock County as well.

Both have been working for quite some time now to put together plans for their systems for the next 20 or more years. These plans have been developed by school officials, parents and others, who have worked together to try to find something to fit the future of our area.

We all have to deal with change at some point. That includes in our schools where, sometimes, we have to give up those old identifiers of pride and spirit for the betterment of future generations.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)