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February 10, 2014

Milford fought over new school 30 years ago

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The Daily Star

---- — At times nearly 30 years ago, the future of the Milford Central School District could have been portrayed as a weathervane, spinning in directions of either a new school, consolidation, or closing. The “winds” changed considerably between 1984 and 1988, but the end result was a new school in the village before the end of the decade. 

“Milford Central School Superintendent Gordon Hammond says that a proposed $4.2-million kindergarten through 12th grade school building on County Route 35 is ‘more feasible costwise’ than enlarging and renovating the district’s existing structure,” it was reported in the Saturday, Feb. 4, 1984 edition of The Daily Star.

The proposed school and land purchase was to be located next to the Board of Cooperative Education Services Occupational Center. The existing school was then found on West Main Street, built in 1927 and added on to in 1952. It is known today simply as Milford Housing, at 50 West Main St. By 1984 the old school had become overcrowded, as six mobile classrooms had been brought to the site. There were 400 students enrolled at the time.

The school board had conducted a study on the costs of a new school versus the rehabilitation of the present building. Energy cost savings, insurance and annual repairs seemed to tip the scales in favor of a new school, to be built to accommodate 600 students.

Not everyone agreed. The Concerned Citizens Committee was formed, critical of the new school plan. The number 600 was arrived at from the district’s projected enrollment increase in the coming years, made in 1983.

“There is no justification for such a projection, no matter how you go about it,” said Deane Winsor, a committee member. He pointed out that school districts in the area had projected a downturn in enrollment at least for the next decade. “Why should Milford be different?” he said.

The plan went before district voters on Wednesday, March 14, and a decisive “no” was the result, a 902-215 margin.

Winsor said he wasn’t surprised by the result, but didn’t think the margin would be that large. The Concerned Citizens Committee said it would work with the board of education to find a solution to the old building’s problems.

By June it was reported that the school board had authorized a feasibility study to consider merging the Milford district with either Cooperstown or Oneonta, or to dissolve the Milford district entirely.

The reaction to either idea was negative, as Winsor organized a petition against consolidation, receiving 300 signatures.

“Consolidation is not an answer to the problem, but rather is a means to total destruction of our educational system and the community as well,” Winsor said on July 25.

That same week, a committee named by the school board was formed to study another new school project, but on other sites. Russell Nasholds of Westville chaired the new committee.

“I think most people want to retain the operation here in Milford,” Nasholds said, rather than consolidating with other districts. One site under consideration was land behind West Main Street, near the old school building.

By late March 1986, word had been received from the state Education Department that a request for money to help build a new school had been tentatively approved. The state aid arrived well after construction began, delayed by the state Legislature.

Without the state aid in hand, the school board went ahead with a new proposal for a $6 million school project, on the site behind the old building. During October 1986, the board took a hard sell approach to district voters, holding six informational meetings, school tours and published a brochure and messages to local residents.

Regarding the board’s extra effort, compared to the effort made in 1984, Winsor said, “To put it very frankly, they’ve done their homework.”

Voters went back to the polls on Wednesday, Oct. 29, approving the new building by a 673-486 margin. Although April 1, 1987 was a tentative date for construction, actual groundbreaking took place on Monday, Aug. 3. On hand was Gordon Hammond, retiring superintendent, and Bruce Burritt, incoming superintendent.

School custodians and students were seen moving furniture and other items from the old building into the new one during the week of Aug. 15, 1988. Students, 452 in all, began the school year in the new building, while construction continued until the end of September. There was more than twice the space in the new school than in the old one.

The school was dedicated on Saturday, Nov. 19, 1988. Following the ceremony, students gave tours of the two-story, L-shaped building.

This weekend: The first patients to Binghamton’s inebriate asylum were admitted 150 years ago this month.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.