One Salisbury: We deserve a Bennett that’s completed right

Bennett Field

Take a look at this artist’s rendering of a “typical” high school in the good old USA. Let’s see, we’ve got a nice, expansive building to the right. Plenty of parking. Tennis courts. A baseball field. A softball field. A soccer field. A football/track complex. An auditorium. Some practice fields/lacrosse fields.

Does anything in this picture scream excess? As in, this is way over the top? Or, does it appear — as it does to me — that this is exactly what any school, in any town (at any time in the last 60 or so years) should look like?

This picture, as many of you will already have figured out, is of James M. Bennett High School. Or, more accurately, it’s of the completed James M. Bennett High School, as envisioned about a decade ago when it was in the planning stage of its life.

Everything about this picture is in place. Almost.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Look at the track area and the two fields that sit next to it — those aren’t built yet. The current Bennett Middle School is occupying that space. It’s set to be torn down beginning this summer. The replacement Bennett Middle School opens its doors this fall, a few miles away in Fruitland.

All of this has been discussed, voted on, and vetted — and it’s ready for the final phase, with the new track and football complex taking their rightful place alongside all of the other fabulous, state-of-the art, beautifully maintained facilities at the “new” home of the Clippers.

Except there’s a little glitch here at the 11th hour. And suddenly, all of this forward thinking/planning might be coming in for a rough landing.

The Final Phase of what I’ll call the “Bennett Re-Birth” is in danger.

After Wicomico County has already borrowed the money to complete the Final Phase, money on which taxpayers in the county — that’s you and me — are already paying interest, County Executive Bob Culver has thrown a proverbial curve ball in the way. He’s asking the County Council to consider a new proposal: Don’t build the track/football complex and don’t tear down Bennett Middle School. Instead, re-purpose BMS into an office complex to house various county agencies, including some of the Board of Education.

Elections have consequences. And these consequences are real.

While Culver’s idea about re-purposing BMS may have merit, the timing is simply wrong. What message are we sending to our community, and to our students, if we don’t finish the job?

If we don’t say that all of our schools — in this case it’s BMS and JMB — merit completion as shining examples of what we deserve, they’ll end up monuments to our unwillingness to expect the best.

Wicomico County has long been a beacon progressive thinking and a “can do” attitude. That’s why we have a community college and an airport; it’s why we have a zoo and a Civic Center; it’s why we have a retail shopping area on the north end, and a resurgent presence (and outstanding university) on the south end of town; it’s why we have two industrial parks and some of the best open space around.

And, it’s why that artist’s rendering of a school in Any Town, USA, as depicted above, needs to be completed in our town.

It’s the right thing to do, and because we deserve it.

Mike Dunn, a former Salisbury City Council president, operates the website.

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