Thursday, August 6, 2009

"For the Children"....I don't think so!

The end is here.

It's been a pretty lousy summer so far, and it just got worse.

The "schoolies," as I call them, are finally making the "statement" they've been panting to make for years. As anyone who has been in the area the last day or two knows, the once revered "old" Brunswick High School, complete with its fully functional and heavily used gym, is now a pile of rubble. Just like that.

And this in a town that prides itself on its history, except when some loftier aspect of civic self-esteem takes precedence. This town with a Village Review Board, a number of registered Historic Landmarks, in-town museums, and an aversion to building nearly anything, couldn't see its way clear to convert a much beloved landmark to senior housing, which could have, in all likelihood, been achieved at virtually no cost to the town. Especially not when "free money" was being provided by the state to clean up the neighborhood and erect a new monument to good old Yankee thriftiness. A state that is in economic chaos and facing budgetary hell.

Yesterday, we stopped by the demolition site to take a few photos and check out the progress. A worker taking a break stepped over to chat. He couldn't help but point out that he was surprised at the number of people stopping by to take a look; he estimated "100 or more every day." He added that he had worked on a lot of demolition jobs, but he'd never seen anything like this kind of public interest.

I'm confident that the new school to be erected on the property will have all the charm, character, and timelessness of the recently demolished A/B and C/D wings and the undistinguished Town Hall on Federal Street. In 20 years or so, those still living in the area will be asking themselves "what were they thinking?," just like those of this era have asked about these prior exercises in civic capital projects.

In recent weeks, some prominent citizens in town have written to the Times Record or otherwise suggested that tearing down the old school and building a new one was the wrong thing to do. Add to them the "hundreds" stopping by everyday to mourn the passing of this conveniently expendable edifice, and I can only ask where were they when it mattered?

Where were they when decisions were being made by the School Board and the Town Council that set the stage for this day? Where were they when the large public sessions were held with the architects and other advocates for this course of action? Where were they when the straw vote was held to "demonstrate" to the state that the construction plan had the support of the town? Where were they when a civil suit was filed against the state to reverse the construction decision? Where were they when the referendum was held? Where were they when the schoolies needed to be sent a message?

I suppose they were either asleep at the switch, or far more likely, they were intimidated by the threat that the schoolies would demonize them as insensitive to the predictable "it's for the children" mantra.

I'll tell you what; I've concluded that it's not for the children, it's for the adults. When's the last time you heard a child come home from elementary school and complain about the state of the physical plant and its deferred maintenance? Or the type of heating it uses? Or its lack of integrated "art" in the structure? When's the last time you heard a student at Hawthorne or Longfellow Schools, which will also be thrown on the trash heap of civic pride as part of this project, complain about their school plant? Did you complain about your schools? I sure didn't; I had other things on my mind. And we've put two children through the full government school cycle, and they didn't either.

We tell ourselves that this is being done "for the children" because it's a distraction and a conversation stopper. But those demanding the new schools are the teachers and staff; the educational experts who gave us such progress as the "open school" concept that renders Jordan Acres problematic; our benefactors in Augusta, who know what's best for us; those who derive a major self esteem boost when their town has shiny new landmarks to brag about; and the parents, many of whom look to the government schools mostly as baby sitters in this day and age. Think all day kindergarten, adding mandatory pre-kindergarten, and then adding mandatory public financed pre-school. In Brunswick, where all the children are above average and all the parents are good looking, we simply must have up to the minute monuments to our caring for the children who are our future, and if we can slake our thirst for all things LEEDS qualified and morally superior to other towns and schools, so much the better. This is an undertaking rich in personal and civic self-affirmation.

In so many words, this whole episode is almost entirely a socio-politically driven undertaking at taxpayer expense rather than a commitment to educational success for the children. And if the same principles were applied to the other buildings in town, and the homes of those who so earnestly support the project, more than half of them would have to be torn down and replaced. Each concerned parent should ask themselves whether the home they provide for their children provides all the features and accomodations and earth-preserving systems that this school will use to boost our all-important "community pride." And if not, what are they doing about it? At their expense, not yours and mine.

In a final bit of irony, Side notes that two of the most dedicated advocates of the new school project will not seek re-election to the school board. Inquiring minds wonder why. Why are they willing to forsake seeing their names on the Brass Plaque given all they've invested in this process? (Or have they been guaranteed a place on the engraved list of dignitaries even though leaving office?) Isn't the hard part over, and the fun about to begin? Isn't the "equity" they touted about to come into reality, and don't they want to be part of it? Have they lost their fervor for doing things "for the children?"

Inquiring minds wonder whether they have weighed the tradeoffs and decided that all things considered, they'd rather be out than in when the doors open. Maybe they know something we don't. Maybe they caught the retirement bug that afflicted Jim Ashe and Don Gerrish just as the looming trauma and challenging future caused by base closure came into focus.

Only time will tell, and we'll probably know the answers sooner rather than later. In the mean time, enjoy the rest of the destruction, and keep an eye out for the busybodies looking to tear down your house or business and replace it with something more politically acceptable to Brunswick's self-image. And they'll justify it by saying "it's for the people."

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