Archive for Thursday, August 6, 2009

School history makes mark

August 6, 2009

The summer of 1934 was one of the hottest on record with temperatures topping the century mark numerous times. It was a tough time in the United States as the nation grappled with the depression and unemployment. Yet, in Bonner Springs, a government grant and a building project offered the prospect of good- paying jobs.

For local residents, the beacon of hope was the construction of a new school building at the corner of Kump and Nettleton. On Aug. 14, 1934, the cornerstone was set and the new school was opened. Today, 75 years later, McDanield Learning Center is still serving youth.

The new school was largely financed with a federal grant, which was designed to provide employment opportunities. Overall, the building cost $74,129 and has proven to be a tremendous bargain for the community.

Actually, a school building has been located on the site since the 1870s. If you look at some of the historic pictures of Oak Street, you can see the old building at the top of the hill, and it was named McDanield School. According to old Chieftain news stories, the original building was used for all grades and later changed to an elementary school. In 1933, it was decided that a new school building needed to be constructed to serve grade school children. Of course, the original building was razed to make way for the new facility.

Probably the new building wouldn’t have been constructed had it not been for the federal grant, which is similar in many ways to the present economic stimulus program. The McDanield building is just one of many existing structures built in the 1930s through federal programs. The success or failure of the 1930s programs is still debated by scholars, however, throughout eastern Kansas and the nation, you can see many buildings constructed in that era still in use.

The new building was the source of hope for unemployed persons in Bonner Springs since the federal grant stipulated that first preference be given to local workers. The wage scale was 45 cents per hour for laborers and up to $1.35 for skilled craftsmen. Apparently, the contractor wasn’t paying the proper wages.

The glitch was worked out by use of local craftsmen provided they joined the union and could prove their skills were equal or above those of outside applicants.

The new building must have been a source of local pride, and there was a well-publicized contest to name the building. The winning entry was submitted by Mrs. Ben White and was in the form of a poem.

Mrs. White’s poem argued for the name “McDanield School.” She stated in the last verse of her poem, “Traditions here are rare that link us to the past. Then let it stand McDanield to the last.”

John McDanield was one of the early founders of the city and had, in fact, donated land and money to help build the first school.

On Aug. 4, 1934, the cornerstone was set for the new building. The ceremony featured an oration by Edward Boddington, a Kansas City, Kan., attorney, and the placement of a copper box containing a variety of historic items. These included a copy of the Chieftain and Kansas City Times, historic documents about the school and a 1934 Bonner Springs telephone directory. In addition, there was detailed information about the drought of 1933, which had scorched the area and a list of sixth-grade students who were scheduled to attend school in the fall. A photograph of the school board was also placed in the box.

USD 204 (Bonner Springs-Edwardsville) School District continues to use the McDanield Learning Center to serve and educate young people. It now is the home of the district day care center and is used for classes by the Special Education Cooperative and the Lamb Pre-School.

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