Youth's Benefit Elementary dedication set for April 21

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Nearly two decades after the effort began to get a new elementary school in Fallston, the $37.1 million Youth’s Benefit Elementary School will be formally dedicated Saturday, April 21.

“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, a community group that pushed for years to get a new elementary school built.

The dedication of the new, 140,000-square-foot, single building school will be from 10 a.m. to noon at Youth’s Benefit.

The building replaces a two-building complex — the former primary building opened in 1953 and the secondary building opened in 1973.

It has a capacity for 1,130 students.

The 86,000-square-foot section will house students in kindergarten, first and second grade, while a 54,000-square-foot section will be home to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

Laura Runyeon, who as president of the Youth’s Benefit PTA was one of several people who led the effort for a new school, said she’s been thinking a lot about Saturday’s dedication.

“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,” Runyeon, also a member of Build It Now, said. “And as a collaborative group, we came together and did something that is in the best interest of the kids.”

Runyeon has slightly more than one year left on her only term as an elected member of the Harford County Board of Education. She was a candidate for the seat when ground was broken for the elementary in October 2014.

The Fallston community never gave up, she said, fighting for 18 years for the new school before the state and county finally conceded.

“They just kept at it,” she said.

Runyeon no longer has children at Youth’s Benefit — her youngest is at Fallston Middle School.

Her 18-year-old son, Matt, reminds his mom of what she and others accomplished.

“He said to me, when we were passing the school, ‘You know Mom, you really should be proud of yourself,’” Runyeon said.

“That’s the benefit, having your kids realize the benefit of something tangible they can see,” she said.

In the old buildings, students couldn’t drink the water because of problems with lead, ceiling tiles fell down around them, the classrooms were open and it was hard to concentrate, MacMillan said.

“All those things were problematic. They were identified a decade ago, we were slated for a school and we were passed over,” MacMillan said.

It’s better late than never to have a new school, he said.

“It’s not a situation where late wasn’t going to work. When it comes to ensuring our public school system is thriving and the kids have a healthy and safe place to go, it’s never too late to get there. It’s painful while you’re waiting to get there, but it’s never too late,” MacMillan said. “If it is too late then we give up hope fighting for that very thing.”

He also praised the community effort, even though many children of the parents involved wouldn’t attend the school.

“It really blew my mind, the commitment of the community to see it through knowing they would never see the benefit, that they’d age out,” MacMillan said.

The dedication

The dedication Saturday will include representatives from the Harford County Board of Education, school system leadership, elected officials and students and staff of Youth’s Benefit Elementary School. Light refreshments and self-guided tours will follow the formal ceremony.

Next for Build It Now

Now that a new Youth’s Benefit has been built, those involved in that effort, Runyeon included, want to address needs at other schools in the county, she said.

“The people involved in building the school believe very strongly we need to address the other schools’ similar situations,” she said. “My hope is the committee of board members and decision-makers we can make that work for William Paca-Old Post and Homestead-Wakefield.”

Funding is tough, she said, but she hopes those involved can come up with a creative solution to meet those communities’ needs.

When Build It Now members were looking at Youth’s Benefit, they found William Paca-Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon suffers from similar issues.

“We felt like our first advocation is for Youth’s Benefit — that’s our community, that’s what we’re promoting,” MacMillan, whose children have also moved on from Youth’s Benefit, said. “It was also our mission to bring greater awareness to William Paca and their need for a new school.”

With Youth’s Benefit open and occupied, MacMillan said the work of Build It Now is not done.

“We remain concerned there needs to be greater support from all the stakeholders for a new William Paca-Old Post,” he said.

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