With school ready to open on Wednesday, August 30, little flashes of memory come back about another fall opening. It was 55 years ago (1968) and the future for Fairview and Girard students looked bleak. They believed they were each playing their last football season alone, each celebrating their last homecoming that fall and each graduating their last senior class the next spring. By the next fall they expected to have merged, to be called the Lake Erie High School with the nickname “Vikings” and wearing the colors royal blue, gold and white.
Oh, the misery. Whose idea was this for the Fairview and Girard School Districts to merge anyway?
Actually, after World War II the PA Department of Public Instruction was looking for ways to improve education and began pushing their ideas forward in 1949. They determined that the smaller schools around the state simply were not up to the task of teaching students in this new (at that time) nuclear age. The counties were required to submit plans to help solve the problem and in 1953 the Erie County School Board submitted a plan for several geographical mergers. Here in West County the Springfields and Albion soon became Northwestern. The county board also decreed that Fairview and Girard would merge.
It was delay, delay as Fairview built Manchester Elementary in 1958 and a new junior-senior high school (Garwood) in 1961, then added a wing to Manchester in 1967. Girard did some delaying too, with the Rice Avenue High School that was built in 1955 and Elk Valley Elementary in 1964.
But that year (1964) both school boards agreed not to add to their existing high schools. They were feeling some serious pressure to follow through on the state and county decrees.
Meanwhile, both communities were growing and the need for more space in the two high schools was becoming dire.
Then the State Board decided to get tougher. They wanted 4,000 students in each new building and when the attendance figures were added, Fairview and Girard together just weren’t big enough. Now the state added the Northwestern district to this mix. The County Board of Education held off on that, feeling that the original two districts – Fairview and Girard – would soon grow large enough on their own. In the meanwhile, Northwestern and Girard were okay with Fairview building a new middle school.
So, by the school term of 1968/69, the details had been worked out. Northwestern would get a new high school as would the combined district created by Fairview and Girard. The name of the district, the colors, etc., as mentioned above, were all selected. Now, as building was about to begin, the students started what they thought would be their last year as separate schools. The Cosmopolite commented, “There may be other homecomings, but they won’t be the same.” Sue Manchester was Fairview’s Homecoming Queen in the game against General McLane. It was played, as all “home” games were then, on Girard’s field. Vicki Antolik was chosen Homecoming Queen in Girard. The winning float in Girard’s traditional homecoming parade carried the banner, “Jackets Never Die, They Just Fade Away.”
Meetings went on through the fall and construction of the new joint building was given a number and place in line. Elsewhere in the county, schools were beginning to appeal the state ruling. Some were successful, which gave the two local boards hope. They decided to hold a joint meeting and vote against jointure, even though it would mean that they would lose their building number and place.
It was a huge crowd from both districts who attended that meeting on February 12, 1969, and one in which Shirley Palmer from the Fairview Board and Jack Holiday from the Girard Board made the motions necessary to dissolve the merger.
The motions passed.
A Cosmopolite editorial scolded the two boards for wasting time. Residents from both communities wrote letters for and against the action taken. Talk about it was everywhere, pros and cons.
The two boards were firm. They appealed their case again and time slipped by… winter… spring, then fall. Another fall. It was football season again and nothing had been settled. The two schools scrambled to set up game schedules, individually, since they were still two districts. The state board met and stated they would announce their final decision on the merger on January 8, 1970.
That decision was for the two districts to proceed alone.
By this time all three districts needed new high schools. Northwestern completed theirs in 1972. Fairview was next. Using the building number that had been assigned to a new middle school they completed their new high school in 1973 and added classrooms at Garwood and Chestnut. Girard began work on their building project in 1974.
Now here it is, 55 years later. Memories of those tense days return, when two rival schools almost became one.
At left is the “new” high school built in 1973. The featured image is the renovated swimming pool, one of four updated areas along with the addition that includes 42 new classrooms, completed in time for the fall opening of the 2023/2024 school season.