ASHTABULA — For decades prior to 2001, there was talk of combining Harbor and Ashtabula high schools, but the idea never came to fruition until Superintendent William Licate faced a financial dilemma after a failed levy.
“I was feeling really down about it,” he said this month.
It cost too much to operate two high schools with a couple hundred students each, he said, noting school consolidation would have educational and economic benefits.
“I believed a consolidated high school could offer an expanded curriculum and a more prominent identity in the community while reducing costs,” he said.
On Nov. 3, 2000, Licate announced his decision to consolidate the two schools in the 2001-02 school year. The ninth-grade students would go to the former Harbor High and the upperclassmen would go to the former Ashtabula High School. Both schools would be called Lakeside.
So, in August 2001, the former Harbor and Ashtabula high schools were consolidated into one Lakeside High School, and a 7-mill bond issue, to build an entirely new set of schools was passed by the voters in May 2002.
The issue wasn’t new to area residents. Since 1963, it was presented nine times to voters and rejected. Licate said the public couldn’t let go of history and tradition. But with both schools’ enrollment dwindling, consolidation became inevitable, he said.
John Roskovics, who now serves as president of Ashtabula City Council, was a teacher and member of the school board from 1990 to 1998, and consolidation “didn’t fly at the time,” he said.
In a November 2000 interview, Roskovics argued smaller, community-based schools allowed more one-on-one contact between students and teachers, and gave students more opportunity to participate in athletics and extra-curricular activities.
He said in that same interview that Licate’s decision to consolidate the schools ignored the community’s sentiment.
But these days, after seeing the new schools and 17 years with a consolidated district, Roskovics changed his mind.
“I am proud of Ashtabula’s new schools and all that’s been accomplished since I was on the board,” he said.
Ashtabula Ward 2 Council member August Pugliese, who was city manager when the schools consolidated, was particularly adamant about not moving the schools out of the city. Among the reasons was economics — and his opinion hasn’t changed after 17 years.
“I definitely still feel that way; we have lost so much because of it,” he said. “I fought it until the end.”
Back then, today’s Ashtabula Area City School Board President Christine Seuffert was a physical education teacher. Throughout her career in Ashtabula schools, beginning in 1972, there were many conversations and attempts to consolidate Ashtabula and Harbor high schools, she said.
“They were met with defeat, but the seeds were planted,” she said. “There was a perfect storm around 2001-2002.”
The “perfect storm” consisted of a group of concerned citizens, including the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Christina Brun-Horrigan, Joan Billman and AACS staff who “swarmed Dr. William Licate and the Board of Education with support for the consolidation efforts,” she said.
Seuffert said she supported the effort then and now.
“It was a contentious time, to say the least. It was almost impossible to ride the fence but I am glad to say, for me, most of the rivals have come together and can agree to disagree,” she said. “As with any change something is given in order to make gains. We continue to be a work in progress. I am most pleased to have a hometown boy, Dr. Mark Potts, at the helm of what has every potential today to be a superior district.”
When consolidation did come to fruition in 2001, Licate admits he was apprehensive about how well the two groups would get along.
“I was concerned ... at the time I thought there would be fights between Ashtabula kids and Harbor kids at the new high school,” he said. “But, that didn’t happen; everyone got along fine.”
Josh Cooper, now 33, was a sophomore at Ashtabula High School when school officials announced the district’s two high schools would become one, beginning in the 2001-02 school year.
“I was nervous because I was not sure how everybody would take it,” Cooper said. “There were some people for it, and some people against it.”
Cooper, who played sports during high school, said athletics had given him the opportunity to meet and befriend other students at Harbor High.
“We talked and we thought we would be a lot better and win more games (when the high schools consolidated),” he said. “In that way, it was exciting.”
Looking back on the consolidation, Cooper believes it was the right thing to do.
“Kids now have better opportunities with the new schools,” he said. “The Lakeside Dragons continue to bring pride to the area.”
Licate said he and then-Lakeside High Principal Richard Bonde worked hard to make the consolidation a success. Bonde met with teams of students about classes, the new school name, mascot and colors. Staff worked on who would become coaches and they raised $250,000 for new uniforms.
Teachers seemed excited about the change when Bonde announced 27 electives, including photography and drama. Because of the small cafeteria at the former Ashtabula High, traditional lunches were discontinued and kiosks were brought in for the second- and third-floors.
In 2001, the first day of school came together without any trouble and the school district began building plans for new schools with the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC). The district was on its way to getting a new high school. The OSFC’s program, which matches local money with state dollars for new school buildings, began to be implemented throughout the county.
Though the campaign was hotly contested, on May 7, 2002 voters approved bond issues to raise their part of the funding. Fifty-seven percent of district voters approved a 7-mill, 28-year bond issue to fund the construction of a new LHS.
Following a long and arduous campaign struggle, district voters chose to close all existing schools and build a new high school, new junior high and five new campus-style elementary schools.
After the bond issue passed, everyone agreed to work together to bring a new high school to the 123-acre parcel at the intersection of Sanborn Road and Route 84 in Saybrook. The district bought the property 10 years earlier.
While Pugliese and some members of Ashtabula City Council and city residents believed the high school should stay in the city limits. The board looked at several sites, including Woodman Avenue, but stuck with Sanborn Road because it’s located in the geographical center of the district, according to school board minutes.
The Sanborn Road site also offered a safer environment, Board President Gail Deligianis said at the time.
The 7-mill bond issue raised $44 million to build the school. The price included a performing arts center, athletic facilities and a large group instruction room.
Architects from MKC Associates visited the city several times in 2002 to decide the design, getting input from parents, students, teachers and staff.
The new school opened in fall 2006.
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said the high school moving from downtown Ashtabula to Saybrook Township has minimized after-school fights as well as complaints from motorists of students walking home from school and blocking the roadway.
“We have experienced a noticeable decrease in these types of calls, which were largely minor in nature but were still time consuming for our officers,” he said.
Junior high and elementary
The next phase of construction was to build a new junior high school.
The Ashtabula Area City School Board decided to close Columbus and West Junior High schools at the end of the 2005-06 school year.
Junior high students began classes in fall 2006 at the former Lakeside High School (formerly Ashtabula High School) on West 44th Street. The school was then known as Lakeside Junior High School.
principal of Lakeside
Junior High in 2006, said in an interview at the time that the biggest challenge was getting 670 students through the lunch line. But she also pointed out the increase in building size had a positive affect on students, with more class offerings, such as computer classes.
Atkinson said other pluses of the consolidation included having a variety of teachers in one place.
“Teachers from both former junior high schools allows increased flexibility and idea-sharing,” she said.
But things didn’t go as smoothly at the junior high as it did when the high schools consolidated. Police and school officials said they were doing everything within their power to stay on top of trouble, but it didn’t take long before school officials had to call the police to the newly consolidated junior high school on West 44th Street.
“That’s a lot of kids (a total of 670), and it’s a high-traffic area,” said Gerald Cornelius an Ashtabula police captain in 2006, and still today, in an October 2006 interview. “That principal, Mrs. (Sylvia) Atkinson, is fearless.”
Joseph Donatone, who was serving as acting superintendent in 2006, and who is retired today, said in a 2006 interview that Atkinson provided “very good supervision” of the students.
“In any district, there’s a small percentage of students who demand a majority of attention from the administration,” he said in that same interview.
When it came to the elementary schools, Licate said he recommended the district build five elementary schools in a campus-style setting because he and several teachers agreed — many Ashtabula students move several times each year, and then they have to move schools, as well. By keeping the elementary schools together on one campus, a child can move and stay in the same school.
Old and new
Ashleigh Parsons of Ashtabula, a member of Lakeside High’s Class of 2010, was in the last class where Ashtabula students attended Columbus or West junior high schools.
“I really enjoyed those two years (of junior high); the rivalry between the two schools and the history of the schools, as well,” she said. “It was another way to relate to the older generation. I think when the schools consolidated, we lost that emotional connection.”
As an adult, Parsons said she’s noticed when “the old Harbor and Ashtabula grads” talk about high school, there’s a deep sense of pride.
“I am proud to
be a Lakeside graduate but I think my
experience would have been different had they kept the two high schools,” she said. “All in all, my experience was great — being able to go to the new building is definitely cool, it’s a beautiful school. I was lucky to be part of the first class to go all four years at the new high school.”