Memories thrive amid school's new beginning

Thoughts: A fresh start for Ellicott Mills Middle recalls experiences at old school.

September 05, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In an era when new school buildings are becoming common in Howard County, Ellicott Mills Middle School is one of several new facilities, freshly painted, with gleaming glass and the latest equipment.

But this school first opened in 1939 as Ellicott City High School. The new structure - reminiscent of an old schoolhouse with white-framed windows and a porch on either side of the entrance - welcomed pupils Aug. 27 on the site where the first building stood for 60 years before being leveled in 1999.

"The first thing I said was `Wow!'" said alumna Kayla Fowler, 15, at an open house at the school the day before classes started. "I could not believe this was my old school."

Principal Mike Goins, speaking later in the week, attributed the successful start to helpful parents and staff and called the school an opportunity to start fresh.

"I think this week has started very smoothly," said Goins. "I've been surprised by how smoothly it has gone."

But memories of the former school thrive, preserved by staff members, parents and members of the community who once walked its halls as pupils. As one example, a plaque in memory of former students who died in World War II, which hung in a hall of the old school, will be removed from storage and placed on a wall of the new building.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, alumni County Executive James N. Robey and County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman shared experiences and hopes for the future of the new building. Kittleman spoke of jogging to what was then an outdoor pool at the nearby YMCA for swimming class during the 1960s.

Kayla and a group of pupils from the last class to attend the original building presented a plaque for the school's new sign. The sign displays a picture of the mascot - the Eagle - and the school name in bright gold letters, anchored by bricks from the original building.

After opening two schools in three years, Goins acknowledged he is tired but energized. Ellicott Mills' population was housed at the just-completed Bonnie Branch Middle School while the new building was constructed. Staff members packed up and moved from Ellicott Mills to Bonnie Branch in 1999 and did it all over again, returning to their school this spring and summer.

As if coordinating the logistics of moving were not enough, the schedule was changed to accommodate the smaller population of the new school.

"We were in transition for two years, and now we're home," said Assistant Principal Madrainne Johnson.

Some parents and staff members had mixed emotions about the loss of the old building and the opening of a new school.

"It's new, it's fresh, but I like old stuff," said Kayla's father, Ralph Fowler, who attended Ellicott Mills Middle School during the mid-1970s and collected bricks and fallout shelter signs from the original building.

Next-door neighbor, Dixie Miliner is excited to see the new building. Her father's turkey farm, which supplied Thanksgiving turkeys to several presidents, was close to the old school. Miliner attended Ellicott Mills in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and her three daughters were also pupils there.

Pupils Max Malamphy, 13, Justin White, 13, and Ryan Masters, 12, called the school "awesome" after getting off of their bus. The boys and other teen-agers who spent time at Bonnie Branch think this building is bigger. Allison Glascock, 13, says she likes the layout and the fact that the school is new.

Frank Lupashunski, who went by the nickname Mr. Lupe, taught his first year at Ellicott Mills as a social studies floater in 1951. He has vivid memories of carrying his maps and globes from room to room, but he is not as concerned with the bricks and mortar as the people who work and study within.

"This building is beautiful, but before it was built, this building produced some fine caliber people," said Lupashunski.

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