Monday, November 27, 2000

Rebuilding Hughes a penny at a time

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More than $1,000 in pennies, buckets of them, has been gathered by students and supporters of Hughes Center to launch a capital campaign to rehab the structurally declining but artistically imposing Tudor school in University Heights.

        The Cincinnati Public Schools building that is home to six magnet school programs needs $40 million in repairs. After reaching an agreement with the Cincinnati Board of Education, Hughes loyalists are working to raise money — and the school's profile.

        The penny war is just one recent example:

        • The alumni group is now a registered nonprofit organization.

        • More than 4,500 alums were contacted about supporting the school.

        • A capital campaign kick offs in January, with a goal of raising $500,000.

        • An undisclosed foundation pledged $100,000.

        The penny wars are a throwback to the school's early days, teacher Jamie Beirne said, when it was Hughes High School.

        Started in the 1930s, penny wars at Hughes helped buy artwork to be displayed inside the building.

        Much of that art is now housed in local museums. An open house planned for Jan. 21 will showcase some of that art.

        This year's penny war pitted classes against one an other. Students challenged the alumni, too.

        “We came in and dropped five buckets of pennies, including a pretzel jar full,” said 1956 Hughes graduate Charles Whitehead, who started the alumni group. “I don't recall penny drives back when I was in school. I needed all the pennies I had back then.”

        The involvement of the alums inspired student Amber Hillman to get involved. She helps alumni understand the school's needs by bringing other students to meet with the group.

        Taxpayers also benefit from these efforts. Money raised can be leveraged by the school district for federal no-interest loans. These funds can be used for school renovation projects when a private group commits 10 percent of the project's cost.

        Mr. Whitehead said he couldn't be happier with the positive response to the alumni group's efforts.

        “We are commited to having a great city with a great public school system,” he said. “We're excited about what Hughes can be and a what it was. We're excited about the potential of Hughes. It's a 90-year-old success story.”

        To help the Hughes High School alumni group, contact Mr. Beirne at 559-3000.


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