LIMA — It was a very small news item in The Lima News nearly 40 years ago.
“A brief groundbreaking ceremony for the Apollo Joint Vocation School will be held Monday at 7 p.m. at the school site, 2225 Shawnee Rd.,” read the article in the Aug. 23, 1974, edition of paper.
Given the difficulty of getting to that point, a celebration might have been more appropriate than a brief ceremony. The launch of Apollo 11 on the moon mission could hardly have been more difficult than the launch of its namesake school.
In 1963, the Ohio Legislature passed the Vocational Education Act which required each school district in Ohio to offer vocational education to students. Ohio Gov. James Rhodes in the late 1960s mandated that vocational education — which is geared to job training as well as academic studies — be made available to every student in Ohio public schools. The formation of a joint vocational school district was one way to fulfill the mandate.
Winning voter approval for the money needed to build and operate a joint vocational school would be a recurring problem. The Northwest Vocational District in Allen County was one of the first to fail in 1967. “Taxpayers virtually voted the district out of existence,” the News wrote. Voters in May 1967 rejected a $1.5-million bond issue for construction and a 0.9 mill operating levy. The district dissolved in June 1968 after Lima withdrew.
On May 18, 1970, the Allen County Joint vocational school district and board were formed. The district was comprised of Elida, Bluffton, Wapakoneta, Ada, Allen East, Perry, Shawnee, Spencerville and Bath.
“Neil A. Armstrong Vocational Center was selected by unanimous decision as the official title of the vocational school district operating since May as the Allen County Area Joint Vocational School District,” the News reported Oct. 27, 1970.
A 2.25 mill tax levy to fund the school was placed on the ballot in each of the nine participating districts in the May 4, 1971, primary.
“No announcement of the school site has been made although campaign workers have indicated it most likely would be in the center of the 9-district area and easily accessible from I-75,” the News reported April 27, 1971. “If the tax levy passes, the building could be open as soon as the autumn of 1973.”
The levy was narrowly defeated and, in October 1971, the school board decided not to go to voters again that year with a levy request. If school backers were hoping the wait would improve the levy’s chances, they were wrong. Voters again rejected the levy in the May 1972 primary.
“Proponents of the Neil Armstrong Joint Vocational Center seem to be hoping the third time will be the proverbial charm which will win voter approval of a 2.25-mill building and operating levy to finance the proposed school,” the News reported Sept. 17, 1972, two days before a special election.
“Tuesday, September 19 may be the most important day in the lives of your children who may be attending one of the nine schools heading up the Neil A. Armstrong Joint Vocational School District,” a Sept. 14, 1975, campaign flyer said. “For on this date will be determined the life or death of the proposed $5,530,000 NAJVCS, a centrally located vocational training center to help train our youth for gainful employment when they graduate from high school.”
The levy was defeated for a third time. “None of the individual districts can afford to build a vocational school by themselves, said Bluffton Supt. Fred J. Bremer after hearing of the election results,” the News wrote Sept. 20, 1972. “We can’t go it alone,” Bremer told the News. “I really don’t know what the next step will be.”
The next step was dissolution of the district by unanimous action of the district board in December 1972. A new vocational school district, under the leadership of Elida and including Shawnee, Bath and Wapakoneta, was proposed. The other members of the Neil Armstrong district — Ada, Allen East, Bluffton, Perry and Spencerville — would be invited to join the reorganized district.
In February 1973 a committee recommended the new district be named the Apollo Joint Vocational School District. It also recommended the district seek voter approval of a 2.25-mill tax levy April 3, 1973. The levy was approved by a 1,017-vote margin in the four districts.
Ada, Allen East, Bluffton, Perry and Spencerville joined the Apollo district in April 1973.
Finally, it was time to select a site for the school. “With its biggest obstacle — passage of construction and operation millage — conquered, the Apollo Joint Vocational School District board now is waiting for approval or denial of its application for 34 acres of land at the Army Modification Center,” the News reported April 17, 1973.
Apollo had a rival. The Johnny Appleseed Park District also wanted the surplus land as well as an adjoining tract for the development of a park. In July, the General Services Administration awarded the land to the park district, which used it to create Heritage Park.
The school and park district would become neighbors later in July 1973 when the school district signed an option for 52 acres on the southwest corner of Reed and Shawnee roads. Ground was broken for the school the following year, and Apollo opened in 1976.