Letter to the Editor: What the loss means
This is an opinion piece. If there are errors or omissions, they are a matter of memory, not malice.
It is difficult for west Carbon to understand how the loss of East Carbon High School affects the east end of the county.
Until 1959, East Carbon students were bused to Carbon College. They did well, holding class offices and participating in teams but their dropout rate was 50 percent because of the added burden of more than an hour a day of busing added to having to arrange transportation for extracurricular activities.
Because of great community concern, Kaiser Steel donated land for a high school to be built in Sunnyside. U. S. Steel and Kaiser built a beautiful, state-of-the-art building with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. For many years, East Carbon turned out excellent students who have excelled in their chosen fields.
Then, U. S. Steel shut down their Columbia and Horse Canyon mines, taking many jobs from the community. Several years later Kaiser also closed.
One morning several years ago, the ECHS principal received a call from local school board member Richard Robinson. Richard and been talking to CEU president Mike Peterson who mentioned the vote that would be held that night at school board meeting to close East Carbon High. Richard had not been informed of the impending vote. The staff rallied to save the school, calling the senior citizen center first with the plea, "You helped build the school, please help save it."
The second call was made to the East Carbon Post Office. By the time call number three was made to the Sunnyside Post Office, they had already been informed. That night, 650 people attended the meeting held at Carbon High, most of them from East Carbon.
Of course, the issue was money, $110,000 a year. The community set out to find the needed money. The workers at Kaiser donated $16,000 from the last paychecks they would ever receive from that mine, knowing that it was closing immediately. This was also the first year that ECDC was in operation. They forwarded $85,000 in tippage fees. I don't know where the rest of the money came from. I do remember the 4-foot potholes in streets all over town which were not repaired while the city fought to save the school. The community paid the ransom for three years and then began to consider whether legal fees would be more or less than the ransom.
The school board decided that East Carbon would no longer pay double taxation to keep their school and it remained open for several more years.
Because the school was small, a typical ECHS student participated in fall, winter, and spring sports as well as competing in speech, drama, FHA, and FBLA. Resource students were successful in regular history and science classes because of the small classes and close cooperation between the regular teachers and the resource department.
The yearbook showed that, in a class of 33 graduates, only two students had never held an elected office or competed in another activity.
Students began to earn money for their junior prom in their seventh grade year. Two advisors would coordinate efforts for the same class until that class graduated. Each year juniors would put on a fairy tale prom, wrapping the gym until neither walls, ceiling nor floors were visible. Juniors would dance in a carefully choreographed promenade. Most of the community would turn out to watch the students dance.
Spanish teacher, Ruby Cordova orchestrated a Cinco de Mayo celebration each year with her students singing and dancing Mexican songs while the community put on a Mexican feast in the lunch room. On St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish. On Cinco de Mayo at ECHS, we were all Mexican.
Kathy Lemon celebrated the Baby Oscars each year to honor students who had participated in competitions and plays. Many were not able to schedule her classes so she worked with them outside the school day.
The students had a great deal of pride in their school. Halls were kept clean. More than once, students went to the office to inform the principal in shocked voices that "there's a game tonight and the stage hasn't been swept and there is dust under the stairway in the gym." I have worked in nearly every building in the district and have found none cleaner.
About 10 years ago, the school board authorized ECHS to spend $12,000 to replace the 40 year-old front sidewalk. We received permission to let the students do the work in order to help these kids with very few work opportunities to develop their skills and resumes. The shop department rented a cement cutter to remove the old sidewalks. The school district sent a backhoe to dig it up. East Carbon City supplied a dump truck to haul the refuse away. During the project it was discovered that the drainage system from the swimming pool roof had collapsed so that was repaired.
Under the tutelage of Bob Olsen, the shop students drew the plans for new sidewalks and a sprinkling system for lawn to replace the blacktop placed there in the 1970s. Sunnyside City supplied topsoil for the new lawn. When the forms were ready, cement was ordered and Mr. Olsen taught his students how to lay concrete. A monument company in Price donated a plaque for the sidewalk, commemorating the school's effort.
Biology teacher Seth Allred took his class to Gordon's Nursery to learn which plants and trees would thrive in our climate and elevation. They designed the landscaping at the entrance and purchased the flowers, vines and trees which were brought home by a community member with a horse trailer. After painting the swimming pool fence, they built a castle stone retaining wall to hold a flower bed about 40 feet long. About 5,000 square feet of sod was laid by the entire student body in one day. Trees and flowers were planted the same day. Since it was the day before the Junior Prom, the students worked until after 4 p.m.
The only way these tired young people could be convinced to go home was that the principal promised to wash all the sidewalks before the prom. That afternoon, car after car of parents came to view their children's work.
This week, the skies wept as residents wept watching their precious building brought to the ground in a few hours. We know that it is impossible to offer a full secondary program to so few students. We know that it costs money to retrofit a building for a new use. But, none of you have ever sacrificed for your school as this community has.
None of you know what we have lost.
Pray God you never will.