“It’s always about the kids”
Despite school starting two weeks ago and students occupying their news desks and classrooms inside Ben-Gil Elementary School already, district #7 officially opened Ben-Gil Elementary School Sunday afternoon, September 1, 2013 with a ribbon cutting grand opening ceremony.
Administrators, contractors, architects, community leaders, teachers, students, parents, and community members turned out for the event to view the school for their first time and, ultimately, to show their support the district.
The day comes nearly four years after students started their first day in modular buildings behind Gillespie Middle School and Gillespie High School after mine subsidence destroyed the Benld Elementary School in March of 2009.
Assistant Superintendent Joe Tieman recalled the day he received the phone call from elementary principal Angela Turcol telling him the Benld Elementary School had collapsed at various locations.
Immediately, Tieman passed the information to Superintendent Paul Skeans, who passed the information onto 30 political leaders. “It was amazing,” Tieman said of Skeans, “He got on-site in Benld and had a list of 30 people he had already talked to on his way to the school.” Tieman went on to say Skeans was out of town at the time and drove through a snowstorm to reach the school that night.
“Today we celebrate the end of a long journey,” Tieman said, “We start a new journey today to provide an outstanding education for many generations to come.” Indeed so, as hundreds flocked into the gymnasium following the cutting of the ribbon. In the gymnasium nicely decorated in flowers, balloons, and tiger balloons, citizens caught their first glimpses of the new elementary school.
President of the school board, Mark Hayes, referred to the day as a “very special day.” Hayes explained the elementary school is a state-of-the-art facility housing pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Over 650 students occupy the building every school day, not including faculty, maintenance, administration, and other outside staff. “It has been a long journey with many obstacles in the way,” Hayes continued. “This will be the foundation of an educational journey by so many in the community.”
Former Senator Deanna Demuzio congratulated the community on the opening of the new school. Demuzio recalled receiving the phone call about the elementary school in 2009. “Everyone was determined to provide the education to these 700 students,” Demuzio said. “The goal for everyone was to have every building ready for the kids – whether it was the modulars or the new elementary school.”
Hard work, determination, and perseverance always pay off, Demuzio said before she reminded everyone the school is always about the kids. “It’s always about the kids no matter what it is,” she closed.
Tieman explained Skeans told everyone from the very beginning, “We will never occupy the school again, but we will rebuild.” If there was no Paul Skeans, Tieman continued, there would be no Ben-Gil Elementary School. He said Skeans spent countless hours talking to political figures and financial advisors to get the building underway at the new elementary site.
“1,648 days ago the elementary school was lost to mine subsidence,” Skeans reminded everyone. “Here we are today celebrating the efforts of everyone involved making this our day, your day.” Sunday marked a day CUSD #7 continues to make educational differences in the community.
Skeans went on to close saying retirement looms just ahead for him. “The last 13 ½ years spent in Gillespie has provided many challenges, but these have been the best years of my career,” he closed. “I sincerely thank the entire district, administrators, board members, and the central office team. I thank you for your support.”
Following Skeans’ announcements, students from the elementary school presented Superintendent Skeans a plaque at the end of the ceremony that read, “To Superintendent Paul D. Skeans, the man who rebuilt our future, September 2013”. The students presented Skeans a plaque and greeted him with a handshake. “If you paid attention to who carried the plaque in, that’s who it has always been about – the kids,” Skeans closed.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
There are plenty of ways to keep up on BenGil news: