The new Whittier Elementary was too small when it opened in 2008. For Principal Eric Remley, that’s a good problem to have.
Strong enrollment at the West Toledo school forced Toledo Public Schools to keep the original structure off Lewis Avenue open, splitting classes between both buildings. In recent years, with the districtwide switch to kindergarten-through-eighth-grade buildings for elementary schools, old Whittier was sort of a middle school, and new Whittier held elementary grades.
With a wing addition complete and ready for the school year, all of Whittier is under one roof on Walker Avenue. That should only strengthen a community, Mr. Remley said, that supports its neighborhood school so much they had to make it bigger.
“They had to put an addition in because the community wants to send their kids here,” said Mr. Remley, who attended Whittier as a child. “We could have worse problems.”
School starts for most TPS students today, and many buildings across the district will be less than full. Increased competition and a shrinking population has led to school closures and less crowded halls.
But Whittier is one of a handful of TPS schools beyond capacity. Mr. Remley estimated the school will have about 600 students. Last year, the district approved additions at Whittier and Arlington elementary schools. Both additions were finished in time for the new school year. Whittier’s former Lewis Avenue facility is to be torn down during this school year.
The additions are essentially the end of the district’s massive “Building for Success” project, a $650- million endeavor that led to the rebuilding or renovation of dozens of TPS schools. Both the Whittier addition and new space at South Toledo’s Arlington were funded with interest earned on the bonds that financed Building for Success.
The Whittier addition cost about $2.6 million and the Arlington project about $1.8 million, said TPS business manager James Gant.
Teachers milled about Whittier Monday, completing final preparations on their classrooms. The new wing, about 8,000 square feet, houses 10 classrooms for grades sixth through eighth. Lockers are in the hallways, a big addition for students compared to the old building, Mr. Remley said. Though the wing will serve as a kind of middle school, the whole building will have an elementary atmosphere. No bells, quiet in the hallways, teachers leading students as they walk between classes.
Sharon Clark, a sixth-grade reading and language arts teacher, has been at Whittier for a dozen years, complete with multiple moves between the two buildings. Though the structures are adjacent and only feet apart, the division felt much larger, she said. It almost felt like two continents, Mr. Remley added.
Now, teachers can interact, everyone hears the same announcements, and younger students can look up to their older peers.
That kind of cohesion is appropriate for the neighborhood.
“It’s a huge family that spans generations,” Ms. Clark said of Whittier. The family is now under one roof.