Hopefully the students and staff in the Unatego Central School District are feeling better after a few days off because of a surge in illnesses. They have a bit of a milestone to mark Tuesday. It was Nov. 17, 1969, when the Unatego Junior-Senior High School was dedicated and the public was invited to an open house at the new facility.

It was a day when Congressman Samuel S. Stratton presented a flag to John Tama, president of the Unatego Teachers Association; Gilson Slate, district principal; Arthur Gillingham, school board president; and Harold Skinner, junior high school principal.

Before the time the Unatego Central School District was formed in 1963, Unadilla and Otego each had their own districts.

The idea of consolidating the districts began at a meeting in Unadilla on Monday, March 7, 1960. The advantages to the students of a larger high school were cited by Associate Commissioner of Education Dr. Walter S. Crewson, Jr., who said that a high school should not be smaller than 500 students "if you are going to educate all the children at a reasonable cost with something for everyone in accordance with the American ideal.

"If your children are more important to you than any other consideration, you cannot accomplish this without supercentralization," Crewson declared. He felt that a high school between Unadilla and Otego could be operated at the same tax rate, and "the children would get a fairer deal."

Citizens committees formed in both localities to consider proposals for a larger school. Percy Tompkins of Otego and Walter L. Hunt of Unadilla were chairmen of their committees. It was reported on July 21, 1960, that in an informal poll taken of Otego School District voters 35 favored staying local, 33 voted for consolidation and three votes were blank. Unadilla's Educational Survey and Planning Committee urged consolidation in March 1961.

Study and debate continued, and the consolidation issue was put to a public vote on June 18, 1963. Voters in school districts 1 and 2 of Otego and Unadilla gave a 53 percent majority to make Unadilla and Otego one district.

A new Board of Education was elected on July 9, 1963. Their immediate tasks at hand were to form a budget for the upcoming school year and to begin searching for a site of the new $1.75 million high school.

The first meeting was convened on July 18, and it was noteworthy because for temporary purposes the identification of the new district would go by the popular name, the Otego-Unadilla Central School. Carlton Dwight, school board president, appointed a committee to work on a permanent name to be presented later to the state Board of Regents for approval. It was also decided during 1963 that the junior high would be in the new building, to accommodate 700 students in grades 7 through 12.

It had been hoped that the new building would be ready for opening by September 1966. However, there were delays because of a district-wide debate about where the school would be located. Once resolved, construction began in 1967 after voters approved a $3.5 million bond issue with hopes of completion by January 1969.

That deadline passed, and with a significant amount of work remaining, a local Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union walked off the job on Friday, Jan. 31.

Once the building opened in the autumn, students in all schools could spread out a bit. Conditions had been crowded for several years. For instance, in Otego alone in 1960, four temporary buildings were in use to house the overflow grades.

This weekend: A former Oneontan did his part to help bring down Chicago gangster Al Capone in the 1920s and '30s.

___

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 e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.

Recommended for you