OCEAN PARK, LONG BEACH - Taking the podium at Ocean Park School (OPS) last Wednesday morning, School Board Chairman Ed Guelfi gave a similar address to the one he gave at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on the first day of school, chronicling how the school got to this point.
"The school board asked itself in early 2002, what is one of the major stumbling blocks that keeps us from getting the kids a top-notch education? And we thought that was a pretty simple question until we started investigating that," he said.
He told of their journey, asking parents, teachers, staff and finding that the facilities - most notably Ocean Park, Long Beach and Hilltop schools - were a big problem.
"We put together a plan with the help of everybody we could find and decided to put a bond out to the public and ask them to help us rebuild our school buildings," he said. "In May of 2003 the voters came through with 62 percent 'Yes' in favor of new schools. And today you're standing in the result of that."
The result was the dedication of the newly remodeled OPS and Long Beach School (LBS). Nearly 80 people gathered that morning for the event in the new gym at OPS to hear speeches by Guelfi, Superintendent Rainer Houser and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, before taking self-guided tours around the new facility.
As Guelfi spoke, Principal Bette Arne continued to dab away tears from her eyes. The entire student body sat cross-legged on the gym floor, and those in the audience who had a hand in the rebuilding process were called to their feet for a curtain call.
Amongst those recognized at both school ceremonies were Roseanne McPhail and Garnette Sutherland, who headed up the Citizens for Better Education group that worked promotionally to support the bond. Also on hand was former Superintendent Tom Lockyer, who did not speak at either function, as well as former board members Kristi Unruh and Jim Sayce.
"This is a great day for this community," said Guelfi before introducing Houser.
"It just overwhelms me being here, especially listening to the students sing, it wells your eyes up with tears, it's so wonderful," he said. "If you ever forget what education is all about, what it should be all about, you just have to look on the floor [where the students were assembled] and see the faces of the kids."
Houser talked about how the new buildings were more than just new walls and doors and a roof. He talked of how when the old buildings were torn down, "there'd be a wire here and a wire there," speaking of the fiber optic lines used for computers and the Internet.
"It really reflected the age in which it was built," he said. "But if you were just to take away the sheet rock of this building you would see bundles and bundles of blue wires that go everywhere throughout this building. Those bundles of wires connect us with the world."
Houser went on to introduce Dr. Bergeson by talking about her dedication to education in the state.
"When I drove here this morning I was so excited to think about this school," she said. "I was here just before school started this summer and things were pretty messy out here."
Bergeson noted how the teachers spent the final days before school started preparing their rooms for the students. When she said this, Lockyer turned to Arne and mouthed "really?" When she nodded an answer he gave a surprised look of approval.
"I'm here because I love kids and I love learning," Bergeson said.
Following Bergeson, fifth-grader Grace McPhail read an essay about what a new school means to her and her town.
"A new school would mean many things to me and my town, like bigger classrooms, intercoms, a bigger lunch room, a safer school and happier children," she read from the essay written two years ago prior to the bond vote.
At both schools, the principal surprised Bergeson by having the students sing the happy birthday song to her, as it was her special day. The flattered Bergeson bowed to the crowd on both occasions.
The OPS ceremony closed with the singing of the school song, written by music teacher Suzanne Knutzen and the students in 1994.
"Walking through the building, look at all the happy faces, Ocean Park School is for me, where learning's a treasure," the students sang.
At Long Beach School, the sixth grade band plays pep tunes as the students and visitors file into the gymnasium for the afternoon event. A color guard from Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment presented the flag during the pledge of allegiance to open the ceremony.
As with Ocean Park, the event included a singing of the school song by the students and those in attendance.
"We have a lot to learn, we have a lot to know, are you ready? I'm ready, we're ready," they all sang.
Guelfi made note of how the Long Beach project is "75 percent complete" at this time, and still on schedule to make the projected time frame of moving into the fully completed building during the winter holiday break.
"This is your school and you should be very proud of it," said Houser as he addressed the crowd of around 70. He noted the significance of the school's staff as being just as important as the building itself.
And while the program in Ocean Park took place in the morning, the Long Beach dedication took place in the afternoon, and the students were a tad more antsy, as their school day was nearing completion.
Like at OPS, Raven Rogers read from her essay about why a new school is important.
"I think a new school means a lot to the town because the moms and dads would feel safer about sending their children to school," she recited.
As the days events wrapped up, LBS Principal Gary Flood promised the students, "None of you will ever forget this day," then looked over to where the kindergarten students were sitting and quickly corrected himself. "Most of you will probably not forget this."