BOWLING GREEN - Despite a number of last-minute pleas to keep South Main Elementary open, the Bowling Green Board of Education voted unanimously last night to close the school at the end of this school year.
"There's never an easy time to make changes," board member Thomas Milbrodt said before casting his vote. "We have to face the situation we have, which is declining enrollment. If you're going to make adjustments for declining enrollment, clearly that means a reduction in the number of classrooms."
Built in 1890 just south of downtown, the four-story, brick elementary is the district's oldest building and the second smallest of its six elementaries.
Superintendent Hugh Caumartin said closing South Main will save about $553,000 a year in staff and operating costs. Students will be reassigned to Kenwood and Crim elementaries.
This year, South Main has just 130 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and about 38 percent of them do not live in the immediate area but choose the school for its small class sizes or convenience, school officials said.
Several parents spoke out last night in support of those small classes and the dedicated corps of teachers at the school.
"I think in South Main you have a model school. You have something the nation would like to achieve," said Robert Murphy, who has two children at South Main. "Closing the school would be throwing something away this country is striving to achieve."
In recommending at last month's board meeting that the school be closed, Mr. Caumartin said it was the building's physical condition that warranted the action.
The old school has plumbing and electrical problems. It is not handicapped accessible and lacks storage, parking, and playground space and an adequate bus drop-off area.
"It is not a matter of whether or not a school that is approaching 120 years in age is going to have to be closed, it is a matter of when," Mr. Caumartin told the board last month.
Still, some residents said the school's age could be the very reason to keep its doors open.
John Hartman said the city grew up around Bowling Green State University, which was founded 20 years after South Main was built.
"This educational heritage of our community is something to be proud of and to build upon, not to tear down or abandon to the wrecking ball or some other less noble use than educating elementary students," he said.
Mr. Hartman suggested the board determine what it would cost to renovate South Main and put a levy on the May ballot for the project so that voters could decide the building's fate.
Others asked that the board postpone the decision.
Scott Apple said closing South Main "looks like a back door to realignment." He was referring to a proposal made last year to close Milton, South Main, and Ridge elementaries, realign the elementary grades at the remaining buildings, and build a new middle school for grades 6-8.
The plan was shelved after many residents protested.