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Lehigh Elementary remembered

April 29, 2015
By STEPHEN BRITTAIN , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Since hearing that the elementary school that I attended is about to be 50 years old, I thought I would try to recall some of the early memories of those days.

If you were of grade school age and lived in Lehigh Acres in 1963 or before you went to elementary school at the Lehigh School on Coolidge Avenue. When Lehigh Acres Development Corporation (later Lehigh Corp) began selling land for home sites around 1955 they knew that in order to get people to come buy a home and live here they would need things like shopping centers, churches and schools. Things that make a town grow!

The Lee County School board was approached by representatives of Lehigh Acres and asked if they would build a school in Lehigh Acres. Their answer was that there was no money budgeted to do this. The "company" as we called Lehigh Acres Development Corporation, knew that we needed a school here in our own town so they went back to the school board and said, "We will build the buildings if you will provide the teachers" and the School Board said, "Yes." Three houses were constructed on Coolidge Avenue but no interior walls were put in. Instead each building had a smooth cement floor and a bathroom. Where sliding glass doors would have been in the dining rooms, double crash bar doors were installed leading out to a black topped back yard. There was also a wooden portable building on site between the first and second building that final year. I remember this portable building being so high that you could walk underneath it.

I started first grade here in 1963 in what would be the last year of The Lehigh School. I remember being one of the lucky kids that would be asked to walk with another student with a cow bell on a rope. We'd walk the black top end to end swing the rope to ring the school bell. This is how we started each day. Also, everyone had to bring their own lunch because we did not have a cafeteria or lunch room.

There was a piano in the first grade room so when they had music classes, we had to switch rooms so that other classes could use the old white upright piano.

The third building was the school office and also the 6th grade class room. At one time Principal Elizabeth Ratliff ran the school supply store and was the Principal and kept the refrigerator full of milk in her office and taught 6th grade.

After I finished 1st grade and during the summer of 1964 my folks took us in the car to see the new school that was being constructed. We had to cross the canal on the new bridge on Richmond Avenue. The building looked so big and so grand.

On the first day of school in September of that same year, they lined us up by grade at the bus ramp and we followed our teacher and marched to our new class rooms. My 2nd grade teacher was Mrs. Persons and we adored her. It is interesting to note that none of the school had air conditioning. Not a single room including the teacher lounge, Principal's Office or lunchroom. Big fans were supposed to keep us comfortable in the Florida heat - it wasn't always comfortable.

At first there were just 8 class rooms. One for each grade (1st through 6th) and one for the music teacher. We even had a room that was unused that first year. We had a combined lunchroom and auditorium. It was called the cafatorium. That building was not ready for most of the first year so we still had to bring our lunches to school each day. Finally we had offices for the administrative staff and a library. Our new playground had swings and other items for us to use and a nicely surfaced black top for kick ball and basketball.

Over the next 2 years 4 more class rooms were added at the north end of the main hallway and these were used for the 5th and 6th grade classes.

I spent the next 5 years at Lehigh Acres Elementary School and then was graduated to Alva Jr-Sr High School in June of 1969.

Stephen Brittain is a former student of Lehigh Elementary School.



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