Last updated: April 17. 2014 7:31AM - 600 Views
Valerie Newton Special to the Journal

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ELIZABETHTOWN — You can often find them in a parking lot, along a sidewalk, in the bottom of your purse, under the couch cushions. Pennies can be found everywhere. Tossed aside with little value. But to a school system, they are valuable. And particularly when you put pennies together to make dollars.

On the May 6 primary election ballot, voters will see a referendum for Bladen County Sales and Use Tax. At the request of the County Commissioners and supported by the Board of Education, the one-quarter of a penny sales and use tax referendum has been added to the ballot to support school repairs and renovations in Bladen County.

Impact to an individual if the sales tax referendum is approved by the voters is minimal. A one dollar purchase would cost an additional one-quarter of a penny in tax, or for ease of understanding, a four dollar purchase would cost an additional one penny in tax. Spend twenty dollars and it will cost an extra five cents in tax. With the average annual purchases by a household being approximately ten thousand dollars, the additional one-quarter of a penny tax would be $25 a year, or seven cents a day. Money that can make a difference in whether a student has the capacity to utilize technology in the classroom, learn in a safe environment, or have the resources necessary to become a productive citizen as an adult.

As a public school system, Bladen County School’s embrace society’s most valuable resource - its children - sometimes even when no one else will. Children are accepted without prejudice and without judgment, with the responsibility on the school to prepare them for adulthood and life beyond school.
When the county opened it’s first door of public education around 1773, the commitment was made at that time to provide and maintain a quality educational experience for all students. When a state-wide public school law was enacted in 1839 in North Carolina, Bladen County overwhelmingly accepted and passed the measure by a vote of 200-40. And the commitment to education has not waned since. The additional one-quarter of a penny sales and use tax revenue can ensure that Bladen continues its’ tradition of valuing education.
In this article we’re featuring two more schools, Elizabethtown Primary and Clarkton School of Discovery and some of the facility needs that exist at these schools. While we will discuss each school’s condition individually, consistencies across Bladen County show that out-dated infrastructure, non-efficient, failing external structures, and lack of high-performance operations are found in all the schools.
— Elizabethtown Primary is a pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade school with approximately 540 students currently enrolled. The school has the highest elementary student enrollment in the county.
Built in 1958, the school sits on approximately 10 acres of land. The original building has a total of 21,500 square feet to accommodate approximately 200 students. When it was originally built, the school served Kindergarten through third grade students.
As part of the original design, the current cafeteria was built as a multi-purpose room, or cafetorium, with approximately 3,500 total square feet. Adequate at the time for a school with 200 students, but as enrollment increased over the years, the size of the cafeteria appeared to decrease with twice as many students utilizing the room.
Lunch time has been pushed back over the years as well to accommodate feeding 540 students. What may have once started at 12 noon now has first lunch starting at 10:45 a.m. and continuing until the last student is served around 12:30 p.m. Quite a challenge to feed over 500 students each day in a cafeteria designed to feed 200 students.
In 1971, during the integration of Bladen County Schools, enrollment increased at Elizabethtown Primary and more space was needed. Consequently, third grade students were transferred to Bladen Elementary School, formally Bladen Central High School.
The late 1970s, early 1980s saw a continued increase in student enrollment and the addition of the current kindergarten building in 1982. This building includes five classrooms with a total of 8,000 square feet. With enrollment growth still on the rise, the school added another building in 1985 with seven classrooms to serve third grade students. This building is the current Exceptional Children’s Building and has a total of 8,400 square feet.
By 1988, enrollment at the school increased to 550 students. Building plans were put in place, and in 1990 an additional wing with 17 classrooms and a media center was added to the original main building. The school also added two grade levels with the addition of fourth and fifth grades and employed 40 full-time teachers.
The 1990s brought a steady increase in enrollment for Elizabethtown Primary with the largest enrollment at the school in 1999 with 905 students. Elizabethtown Primary remained a kindergarten through fifth-grade school until 2001 when the two new high schools were completed. With the new high schools, fifth-grade students were moved to Elizabethtown Middle School and are still a part of its’ enrollment.
At the time of the fifth-grade transfer, Elizabethtown Primary School’s student enrollment was approximately 600 students. Enrollment has remained mostly level, fluctuating between 500 and 600 students and currently employs 37 full-time teachers.
One thing that did not change throughout all the additions at Elizabethtown Primary is the cafetorium/multi-purpose room. When enrollment was small, the room could easily be used as a cafeteria and on inclement weather days also as a physical education room. But with a student population twice what it originally was designed for, and lunch starting at 10:45 a.m., the multi-purpose room is no longer multi-purpose.
During inclement weather days when students are not able to go outside for PE, they instead use a mobile unit and empty classroom converted to a PE room. Activities are limited as the space is small with approximately 600 total square feet of space and not equipped for busy, high-energy elementary students.
Revenue from the Sales and Use Tax referendum along with supplemental funding would contribute to the money needed to construct a multi-purpose building, allowing students a place to go for PE or other activities during inclement weather. The long range vision of the multi-purpose building would give access to community-use of the building, similar to what Dublin Primary does with their multi-purpose building and their community.
— Clarkton School of Discovery is a sixth- through eighth-grade school with approximately 300 students currently enrolled.
Efforts to find early records of Clarkton High School result in little information available. The original building, built in 1938, is the current media center. Between 1938 and 1953, historical records could not be found. To preserve the integrity of the school, attempts to mention historical facts would be a guesstimate at best and best left to those who experienced the history of the school.
In 1951, the school built what is currently the front wing of the school between the media center and the gymnasium. The building has a little over 11,000 square feet and nine classrooms, one of which is a home economics classroom.
By the mid to late 1950s, the school added a gymnasium and additional building with two classrooms. The classrooms are currently being used for Dance class and a resource class. The gymnasium was built in 1958 and is still being used today by students, athletic teams, and community members.
Online records indicate alumni from the mid 1950s, during the time when W.R. Lathan was principal, talked about the school being a part of the Ground Observer Corps. The Ground Observer Corps was part of the World War II Civil Defense program to protect against air attack. Volunteers could sign up to become a post for Operation Skywatch, whereby, they would watch the sky looking for airplanes. Clarkton school served as a Skywatch post, with students stationed outside the school during study hall, looking and watching for airplanes in the sky. If an airplane was spotted, the student noted the size of the plane, the number of engines, and the direction of flight and notify the principal who would call Skywatch command.
Fast forward to 1970 when Clarkton High School and Booker T. Washington High School were consolidated following integration in Bladen County. Clarkton expanded with the addition in 1976 of a five classroom building, and in 1977 with the addition of a vocational shop. Locker rooms and weight rooms were added to the gymnasium in 1979.
The last building to be added was in 1987 and is the current office wing, cafeteria, band room, and 11 classrooms. These classrooms and other resource rooms are still being used today as they were built 27 years ago.
Renovation priority at the school is the media center, which is original to when it was built 76 years ago. Although not limited in it’s ability to be multi-functional, the center lacks infrastructure to support technology needs of teachers and students. Revenues generated from the Sales and Use Tax referendum could help fund modernization of the media center.
Like other schools in the county, Clarkton has its’ share of roof leaks and window leaks. After a rain storm, school staff often come in the next morning to find ceiling tiles that have fallen to the floor from being water logged due to leaks and puddles of water on the floor around windows that cannot seal out the rain. These issues can create safety hazards and maintenance regularly replaces ceiling tiles and re-caulks window seals to reduce the hazard as much as possible.

— The sixth article in this series will feature Dublin Primary, a pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade school.

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