Students, public say goodbye to Niles school

NILES – It was a bittersweet farewell as students and teachers – both current and former – walked through the halls of old Niles McKinley High School one last time.

“It was like four years of my life. It was friends and life … it was just home,” said 2012 graduate Danielle Lee, 19, who was relaxing outside the front entrance, catching some fresh air.

The new high school, a 125,000-square-foot facility at 616 Dragon Drive, will open for classes today with a flag-raising ceremony at 9 a.m.

“The new building is beautiful. It seems like a timely move,” said interim Superintendent Frank Danso, who was greeting people as they walked through the old school.

“It’s been a very nice mood. The excitement is very high. It’s going to be the most exciting when these students walk through the doors for the first time,” he said.

“A lot of memories here. I hate to see it go, but it’s better for the kids to get a new one,” said 1989 graduate Sueanne Stanley, 43.

Stanley’s son, a 10th-grader, will be one of many students making the move to the new building.

“He’s afraid he’s going to get lost in the new school … but I think they’re just ready for something new,” she said, adding that one of her friends, a teacher, also will be making the move.

“I never thought that when this place was new, I’d be here watching it get torn down,” said former science teacher and 1962 graduate Jim Amick, 68. “I taught here for 33 years.”

Amick reminisced about being a student and growing up three blocks from the old building, and said some of his most enjoyable memories are from being a teacher and seeing his former students go on to become police officers, bankers and restaurant employees – some even trying to sell him time shares in Florida, he said with a smile.

“I hardly go out without talking to a former student. That’s probably the most enjoyable part as a retired teacher,” he said.

Although he will miss the halls of his old school, Amick said it is an example of days gone by.

“It was (built) in the real heydays of Niles. Everything was good and the community was still good. Back in the ’50s and early ’60s, there were good jobs here. It was just a different time. It’s been a great place,” he said.

Class of 1969 graduate Charles Ring, 61, said although he holds more bad memories than good of his old school, he couldn’t pass up seeing it one last time as he peered through the window of the principal’s office.

“I remember being called into that office. It was 45 years ago,” he said, adding that it likely was due to having an argument with another student.

“This building looks just like I left it in 1969. It looks great. It looks like it could easily last another 50 years,” he said, although he noted some changes had been made to room 205 upstairs, which is located in an area near the radio room that he was particularly fond of.

“After all these years, I still have dreams about this building,” he said.

Class of 2002 graduate Dawn Gasser, 29, was looking for the classroom where she had a cooking class.

“Just getting one final look before they tear it down,” she said.

Although she will miss the school, she said she won’t miss how hot it was or how packed the hallways got.

“The air was never on, and when you walked through the halls, there were so many people you were squished walking through. (The new school) is much needed,” she said.

Lynn McLean Young, a 1964 graduate, said the school was bigger than she remembered.

“There are extra rooms that I don’t remember, and the cafeteria doesn’t look the same; it’s twice as big as it was when I was here,” she said.

“The pillars up front are crumbling. It’s sort of sad to see it in this state. It was not 10 years old when I was here. Everything was shiny and new,” she said. But “it’s fun to walk down memory lane.”

The new facility cost around $23 million, the majority of which was funded through the Ohio Schools Facility Commission.

Voters approved a 5.3-mill bond issue in 2008 to pay its 29 percent share of construction and maintenance of the high school and two elementary schools, a project totaling $62 million.