How Two Separate Districts Came Together
Increasing student population, lack of classroom space and the prospect of raising funds to build new high schools had faced both the Phelps and Clifton Springs school boards when the two voted to merge the districts in 1963.
The projected cost of a new high school in each district was about $1.9 million, while the cost for a new 800-student high school to accommodate a merged district was estimated at $2.5 million. Also, state aid for the larger building was 84 percent, as opposed to 55 percent if each district built a new high school.
A group calling themselves the "merger urgers" was organized in the two communities. Robert Griswold from Clifton Springs and Alan Hagerman from Phelps headed the campaign, and many informational meetings were held in 1966-67.
On June 22, 1967, taxpayers in both districts approved the merger in a combined vote. The proposition passed 1,320 to 1,102.
A new nine-member consolidated school board was elected July 17, 1967. The board included Frederick Gifford, Frances Van Kirk, Victoria Brouwer, Thomas Salisbury, Glenn Jensen, Henry Snyder, Robert Oaks, Charles Rolland and Davis Gulvin. Oaks was elected president of the Board.
The first meeting of the new board was Aug. 8, and later that month voters approved the first district budget — of about $2,597,243 million — by a vote of 154-21.
John Fahy was hired as the first district superintendent. George Saunders as assistant district superintendent. District offices were first located in Maxwell Hall in Clifton Springs.
A building site committee was formed while students continued to use their respective high schools. Land on the corner of Route 96 and Route 488 was recommended for construction after deemed as the most convenient location for residents of the former districts.
On Jan. 10, 1968, voters approved (623-98) the purchase of 122 acres land and nine months later approved (907-619) to spend $4,435,000 to build a new 1,100-student high school with a large auditorium, gymnasium, cafeteria, library, several classrooms and space for District Office personnel.
Construction started in 1969 on the new building, but a workers' strike in 1970 delayed the opening until Feb. 7, 1971. A dedication ceremony and open house were held on Feb. 28, 1971.
"This is the year we move to Midlakes!" Fahy wrote in the 1971 Midlakes Reflections yearbook. "We have a great deal to look forward to. Students in the grades 9-12, never having been together as one student body, will attend classes and engage in student activities at beautiful Midlakes High School. Occupation of this facility, and a program of planned remodeling and school additions where necessary, will also provide excellent academic facilities for all K-8 students in both villages.
"Our united district becomes a unit in fact as well as on paper … Our progress has been considerable and out hopes are high. Together, we are moving steadily toward our primary goal, which is to provide the best education for every child in the school district."
The name Midlakes was chosen in help of a 12-member student council from each high school, and thus the blue and white of the Clifton Springs Blue Devils and the orange and black of the Phelps Bulldogs became the blue and black of the Midlakes Screaming Eagles. After students in both communities started going to the new high school, middle school-aged students in each community started using the old high schools. Each community also had its own elementary school.
"I was in the very first class to graduate from Midlakes," said Stephen Tears (’71) in a 2020 interview. "We were not looking forward to it because we didn’t know anyone from Phelps High School. Well, it went without a hitch .. we started to make lifelong friends."
George Bidleman became the first principal of Midlakes High School. Phelps Middle School was housed in the former Phelps High School building with Paul Besser as principal. Maurice Comings was named principal of Clifton Springs Middle School, housed in the former Clifton Springs High School on Text Avenue. Elementary principals were Donald Jones in Phelps and Kenneth Willard in Clifton Springs.
Richard Heller became district superintendent in 1976.
In 1993, taxpayers approved building a new middle school — onto the high school — at a cost of about $16 million. It opened on the first day of school in September 1995.
District residents approved construction of a new elementary school, at a cost of about $45 million, on the Midlakes campus in 2000. However, it was not built until several years later due to a delay in state aid.
— Sources: Todd Clausen, public relations officer; former Phelps Historian Don Tiffany