Philomath’s downtown is about to get a whole lot brighter. Each spring, a group of volunteers puts up flower baskets to brighten city streets. If the plan worked out as expected, those were supposed to go up Tuesday morning.
But brace yourselves for a lot more color and cheer this year because in addition to flower baskets, Philomath High School’s graduating seniors will be honored with banners up and down Main Street.
With the reality of a traditional graduation ceremony slipping away and with everything that these seniors have lost during the virus pandemic, a group of passionate moms launched the effort.
One of those moms, Kellie McClelland, told me last week that the idea developed out of an online group chat when someone shared a photo of another community that had lined their streets with student banners.
“It was like, ‘oh my gosh,’ this would be such an amazing idea,” McClelland said. “It just gathered life of its own from there.”
The moms started by contacting the high school and didn’t receive a favorable response. I’ll get into that a little later, but when the answer was no, the moms didn’t let that stop them.
“We reached out to Chris Workman (city manager) and he instantly embraced it with swift action, no doubts on helping,” McClelland said.
In addition, the moms gained the support of Pacific Power and Pioneer Connect about placing banners on power poles. They were all in and even volunteered to put them up.
“It’s just been unbelievable the support and momentum that has been gained,” McClelland said.
Workman brought the issue to the City Council May 11 because the project would need to be added to liability insurance and to act as a sponsoring agency if you will (Pacific Power needed an organization to submit an application to put the project in motion).
“The city’s technically the applicant but really, it’s all of the families and the parents and the community doing this,” Workman said during a Park Advisory Board meeting Thursday. “There’s a lot of hands making that happen and they had several donations of people that want to stay anonymous but have given quite a bit of money to make that work.”
And that’s one of the best parts about all this. Donations are covering the entire cost.
“The response has been unbelievable,” McClelland said. “We have a couple in the community that has come forth, they want to pay for every single banner.”
In addition to that, Oregon State Credit Union president Rick Hein committed to paying for the brackets to mount on the power poles, McClelland said.
“So it’s turned into being 100% paid for, plus I think we’re going to end up having some cash donations as well,” McClelland said. “In the end, we’ll see where we’re at and potentially use that for the senior class in some way or donate it to a charity. That’s a little bit of a moving target because it’s been happening so fast. The response from the community wanting to help has been absolutely incredible.”
McClelland didn’t have the cost of the brackets and banners immediately at hand during our talk, but we’re talking about thousands of dollars to pay for this project. As McClelland said, “It’s definitely a chunk of change.”
Are there really enough poles to display that many banners?
“A couple of the moms went out and counted poles,” McClelland said. “They had to write down identification numbers for every single pole and we’re going to fill them all up.”
Now, let’s get back to the issue involving the school district. When the idea first came up, the moms contacted PHS to see if it would be willing the help. However, McClelland said the proposal was not well received.
Principal Mike Bussard had no response on the issue when I reached out to him, but in fairness to the school, I wanted to understand their line of thinking. So, I called superintendent Buzz Brazeau.
“I think it’s a great thing the community’s doing, but I think you’re going to see some kids that don’t get recognized,” Brazeau said. “It’s an equity thing — is every kid going to be up (on a banner)? Do we have a place for 110 kids?”
Brazeau also said there were concerns over the project being perceived as a replacement for graduation or that it could become a tradition to be expected every year. And he mentioned questions when the idea was first proposed about the cost and who would be doing the work to put them up. Plus, the school believed there would be nowhere to hang that many brackets and banners on campus.
But McClelland said the group wasn’t asking the school for any financial support and was just proposing that the banners be displayed on district property. For Brazeau, the issue came down to the fear that not all students would be included and that the school also could not help the group because of a privacy component.
“The fact that somebody stepped up and did this, it’s a great deal, it’s wonderful for them,” Brazeau said. “But it’s not as easy as some think to do everything and give them 100% of the information. There are laws about how much information we can share and who we can share it with.”
Brazeau said the district could not come to a resolution on how to participate and added, “If you want to blame someone, blame me.”
McClelland and the other moms are intent on including all graduates. They’ve been working hard in various ways to get through to all of those families and to try to get photos from them for those who want to submit one. (By the way, McClelland said she believes the group would prefer to just be identified as a “passionate moms” over being individually mentioned, so I’ll honor that and leave their names out).
Later in the process after all of the details had been worked out, the school was asked if it would forward a message through its parent messaging system to help in the effort to include all students. Brazeau said that request was sent out.
“We were pretty frustrated that we didn’t get any support from the school; that’s been kind of a hard pill to swallow, especially for this senior class,” McClelland said. “We were determined and we didn’t let it stop us.”
A series of deadlines have come and gone by the time this piece comes out in the paper and the banners should be going up soon. McClelland said the plan is to keep them on display until around the end of June.
That’s all for this week. The keyboard needs a rest.
Brad Fuqua is editor of the Philomath Express. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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