The late John D. Worthington Jr., who published and edited The Aegis for nearly 50 years, wrote often that building and opening a new school was a sign of community pride and progress.
On Saturday, the Fallston community will finally have the opportunity to formally dedicate its new Youth’s Benefit Elementary School.
While it’s been a long journey to get this far, we’re pretty sure the community, the students, their parents, the staff and the many others who made this occasion possible can look back and ahead with pride. A school building is very much the heart of the community it serves.
Mr. Worthington’s final 15 years leading The Aegis, up to his death in 1964, coincided with a period of new school construction like Harford County had never seen, coming as it did on the heels of the end of World War II and the first wave of the suburban housing boom that followed on its heels.
Early on in that boom, a new school was built in 1953 to serve elementary age students in the Fallston and Upper Cross Roads areas. The site was near the intersection of Fallston and Pleasantville roads, occupied then, as now, by the Graybeal-Thomas sawmill, but very little else. The school land was donated. The donors picked the name.
As the years moved along, more and more schools would be built in Harford County as school officials and county government leaders raced to catch up with the boom in students precipitated by all those new houses. The student body at Youth’s Benefit would outgrow the original school building to the point where a second building was erected in 1973, but the kids kept coming and, as with all things, the original building aged, then the second building aged.
Of the school buildings originally constructed during John D. Worthington Jr.’s era, several, though not all, have been replaced by new structures, most within the past 15 years. Youth’s Benefit was among the last of the 1950s-era buildings still standing.
Saturday’s dedication culminates two decades of community activity to get a modern replacement school built, spearheaded by a group that called itself Build It Now. We suspect there were times when some members who have been along for the full ride wondered if “now” would ever come.
But they never gave up, and standing before them is a 140,000-square-foot building where upward of 1,100 local children have the most modern learning facilities in Harford County.
“I pass by Youth’s Benefit many times a day. Every time I drive by, I feel great joy for our community and for the children who will enjoy it, go to school there for the years to come. It’s just awesome,” Paul MacMillan, a member of Build It Now, told Aegis staff member Erika Butler recently.
Laura Runyeon, a former YBES PTA president, current school board vice president and another longtime Build it Now campaigner for the new school building, said: “To me, it really represents what can be accomplished when the community is engaged and they stay; they continue to put forth their platform of what they think they need in a respectable way and the decision-makers are open to receiving that information. And as a collaborative group, we came together and did something that is in the best interest of the kids.”
And that’s really what schools, regardless of location, age and design, should be: A safe place for kids to learn to the best of their ability.
The new Youth’s Benefit building won’t be the last school constructed in Harford County. Ground was broken April 12 for the building in Havre de Grace that will replace the community’s high school and middle school buildings, both the oldest secondary schools in the school system. MacMillan said the William Paca-Old Post Road buildings in Abingdon, the latter from the 1950s, need to be replaced; so does 1950s Wakefield Elementary in Bel Air.
Adequate and safe school buildings are a big investment for a community. But more than just a sign of pride and progress, they are a necessity. Everyone involved in making the new YBES a reality, please take a well-deserved bow.