July 18th, 2019

washington closing ceremonyOld photos and scrapbooks are examined during the Washington Elementary School closing ceremony in 2016. Many memories were shared of the building, which is set to be demolished in the near future. L&T file photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times


Washington Elementary School has been part of the Liberal community for more than half a century, and recently, the USD 480 school board officially approved the building’s demolition. 

The building has seen many students come through since the early 1950s, with an open house hosted in March 1954. The building replaced an older school building, which was eventually demolished, and was built for $255,000 as part of a project at that time for three new school buildings, according to a March 1954 article from the Southwest Daily Times. 

“Washington was one of the older buildings in town and it was never really about the building, it was always about the students and their families and their relationships with the teachers,” former Washington Elementary School Principal Traci Mettlen said. “One of the things I’m thankful for is even though we had to leave some students behind when we moved, the relationships we built with them, I got to bring all that here to Cottonwood. That’s what’s hard about moving to a different neighborhood, you miss a lot of those families you’ve made those strong connections with. Blanca and I actually started there together and just how we grew to our respective positions has been great to see and seeing these younger teachers as they’ve grown and brought their skills to the classroom and the district. It’s amazing how we brought all these people together and they’ve been able to connect.”

“I remember walking to specials in the rain because our buildings weren’t connected, so we had to walk out in the weather to the portables,” Kate Ortiz, who worked at Washington for four years, added. “The students and the neighborhood also particularly stick out in my mind. It was the start of our educational careers and the smallness of it is what I loved, coming to Cottonwood after that was a big jump. I also remember us all going to the Sno Shack at the end of the year since it was right across the street.”

“I remember the students more than anything because I felt like they loved you as a person and not just as a teacher,” Denise Romero, who taught at Washington for four years, said. “It’s also super sweet when we’re at the store or something and we have a former student come up and say they remember us from Washington and say hi.”

Upon hearing the board’s approval of the building’s demolition, other former Washington staff members said it was sad to hear. 

“I think one of the bigger memories I have is seeing all the students playing outside on the playground equipment and I don’t know what the plans are for the equipment, but I would love to see at least that stuff stay for them,” Mettlen said. “It’s sure something seeing all the changes that have happened and I don’t think a lot of people realize just how many students were at Washington.”

“I was only there one year and the relationships and friendships I developed while I was there are going to last a lifetime,” Casey Dodge, who completed his student teaching at Washington, added. “I drive by it a lot since I live in that area, so it’ll be odd not seeing it there anymore after it’s gone.”

“I think it’s going to hurt when it’s gone, but we’ll all still have our memories from working there,” former Washington paraprofessional Blanca Grajales said. 

The fate of the building had been in discussion for a long time, including discussions of the building being used for a preschool location and a location for Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center offices, among other ideas. With the building officially slated to be gone, former Washington staff agreed it will be bittersweet to see the gap in that neighborhood.

“I wanted to one day drive my children around that area and show them that’s where I had my first teaching job but now that’s not going to happen, so it’s really sad,” Ortiz said. “The students and the neighborhood also particularly stick out in my mind. It was the start of our educational careers and the smallness of it is what I loved. Coming to Cottonwood after that was a big jump.”

“I’m stuck between sad and happy because it’s going to be gone, but if it’s just standing there not being used and if there can be another use for that spot, why not go for it?” Romero said. 

“I’ll most remember the students, they just loved you so much and you could tell you were really making a difference for them. I also remember Winifred and Wilma doing the morning announcements and their lunch song will always be stuck in my head,” Margaret Langstaff, who taught at Washington for four years, said. “There are a lot of memories tied to that building, so it will be sad when it’s gone, and I think the students will be kind of sad too.”

With the decision now official, all agreed they hope something will be put in the building’s space after it’s gone.

“Lincoln’s gone, Garfield’s gone, a couple others are gone now too and they’re just empty spaces now. I don’t know for sure what I would want to go there but I hope someone does something,” Mettlen added. “And that spot is at a great location, so hopefully something will happen.”

“I would want to see something there that would benefit the community and that neighborhood, there’s so much need there on so many levels, so it would be great seeing something go in to help those families,” Dodge said. 

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