By Kevin Kelley
Madison Toth was impressed with the size of the new Lee Burneson Middle School, which she will attend as a seventh-grade student starting next month.
“It’s kind of like a mini high school,” she said while touring the building at an open house July 30.
The former middle school, adjacent to the new building on Dover Center Road, is being renovated and will serve as an intermediate school for grades five and six beginning this winter. The new middle school, the renovation of the old one and the construction of a new Westlake High School are part of an $84 million capital improvements plan voters approved in May 2010.
Toth, who was never in the old middle school, said she also liked the specialized science labs in the new building.
The July 30 open house, at which students served as tour guides, followed a dedication ceremony in the school’s gymnasium. Westlake City Schools Superintendent Dan Keenan said the dedication was not about a building, but rather a statement about the community’s support for its public schools. He quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s comment on the court’s 1954 decision declaring separate schools for students of different races unconstitutional. Jackson’s message, Keenan said, was that quality public schools serve as great equalizers for children and are the foundation of the nation’s democracy.
Board of Education President Tom Mays told the ceremony’s audience that the new building was the result of a lengthy process in which the district’s facility needs were carefully analyzed. He also noted that he and board Vice President Carol Winter voted, in a 3-2 tally, to place the $84 million capital improvements plan before voters.
Principal Paul Wilson highlighted the building’s security features, the wireless Internet access and the flexibility of its design.
“This facility is more practical when it comes the availability for the community,” Wilson said. “Our media center, art, gym, and music rooms are all located opposite of our classrooms. This will allow us to close down the classroom space and have better access for the community groups that wish to use this facility.”
Other speakers included Cathy Axcell, a parent who led the campaign to pass the capital improvements program, and Sara Burneson, the daughter-in-law of the building’s late namesake and previous superintendent.
Emily Huffman, an eighth-grader at Lee Burneson who toured the building with her parents and friends, said the new building was much bigger than the one she attended last year. Her father, Dan Huffman, said he liked the abundant parking.
“Everything just looks so clean,” commented Debbie Huffman while looking at a classroom. “It seems like it should be a nice learning environment.”