By Betty Lawrence
Tuesday marks a new beginning for the 1,150 students in the Parkway Local School District.
They will begin the 2006-2007 school year by entering through the doors of a new education complex that houses all grades, kindergarten through high school, plus preschool, under one roof.
The mammoth 235,000-square-foot facility really is a dream come true for the communities of Rockford, Mendon and Willshire.
The school site is located on a 40-acre plus parcel on the south edge of Rockford, just off state Route 118.
In the 1961-1962 school year, Willshire consolidated with the Rockford School, which then became known as Parkway Local School District. In 1992, the students at Mendon-Union also joined the ranks of Parkway Local. "When Willshire consolidated with Rockford, part of the agreement was that the school be known as Parkway," said Norm VanTilburg, who served as Parkway High School principal from 1974-1995.
"As best I remember it was named Parkway because U.S. 33 runs through both Rockford and Willshire and used to be called the Anthony Wayne Parkway," VanTilburg recalled.
Former Rockford school teacher, high school principal and superintendent, Boyd Granger, remembers when the Willshire-Rockford consolidation came about, students were given the opportunity to vote on a new name and Parkway was the name that was selected.
Prior to construction of the new school in Rockford, the facilities at the two villages have been used as a Middle School in Willshire and Intermediate School in Mendon. The Parkway building in Rockford housed grades 1-3 and 9-12 while the Intermediate School handled grades 3-5 and the Middle School, grades 6-8.
The new school has been a project of current Supt. Doug Karst since he became superintendent in 1999.
"A new school was the major concern when I hired in in 1999 and now that it's completed, we can concentrate on studies," Karst said in a recent interview.
Six years ago, in 2000, architects from the Ohio Schools facilities commission (OSFC), toured the 100-year-old structures in Mendon and Willshire and their finding helped determined the district's funding eligibility.
In 2002 voters approved a 8.8 mill property tax levy to raise the local share of the project. A community-led levy committee worked hard to get information out and are credited with helping get overwhelming support from the voters. The OSFC exceptional needs program funding of $24 was then granted in 2003 and ground was broken on the south edge of the village of Rockford two years ago.
The school, at 400 Buckeye St., was dedicated on June 4, 2006, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft addressing the huge crowd.
The attractive new one-story brick school in nearly five acres under one roof. There is a preschool and elementary with connecting middle school and high school. The intermediate school was eliminated.
The Parkway Panthers now will be playing on a 17,400 square foot gym floor. The gym seats 2,000 people. The 8,500 square foot middle school and elementary school gym seats 500.
There are separate exterior entrances for the elementary, middle school and high school with adjoining administrative offices. Non-invasive cameras secure the building.
A 600-seat auditorium features a large stage with suspended microphones, an orchestra pit, catwalk and acoustical block walls.
Final locations for the football, softball and baseball fields are still being hammered out by the school board and officials and a new bus/maintenance/storage building will be built soon.
The old Rockford school has been demolished as part of the OSFC project with the Mendon and Willshire buildings to follow suit this year.
The land was given back to the respective villages and auctions were held at all schools earlier this year, raising $100,000-plus for the school system.
The bell tower in the old Willshire school has been saved and will be used by the village of Willshire.
Over at Mendon, a committee was formed to turn the property into a park with plans calling for construction of a community building.
The committee was given permission by the Parkway school board to salvage several items from the old school that will be used in the proposed building.
Note: On the front cover of this Parkway section are the school board members and officials who will be the first to served in the new Parkway school. In the back row, left, are Supt. Doug Karst, board member Terry Shafer, board president Dana Smith, treasurer Tammy Muhlenkamp. front, left, board members Betty DuBry, Bob Ransbottom and Kim Brandt.