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The Daimler Difference--Affecting Our Schools

DC loaned students this training facility after their school was damaged in a roof collapse. DC loaned students this training facility after their school was damaged in a roof collapse.
A new primary school. A new primary school.
A new middle school. A new middle school.
A high school under construction. A high school under construction.

How will a DaimlerChrysler van plant affect your children's schools? We wanted to find out, so we hit the road and headed to a town called Vance, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Though DaimlerChrysler hasn't officially confirmed it's coming into Chatham County, if a plant is built here, you better believe local schools will see some changes. Vance's school system grew, and that could happen here.

As the bell rings and the students in Tuscaloosa County head home for the day, most of them have no idea they're a small part of a big school system that's growing faster than ever. One of the reasons is is this the DaimlerChrysler plant that manufactures Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

John Merrill of the Tuscaloosa County BOE told us, "We are the true beneficiaries I think, moreso than any other group in our county."

Merrill explained that in his county Mercedes-Benz often provides transportation and picks up the tab for school kids to go to educational orchestras, plays, and concerts. And that's not all: company officials have even stepped in to handle emergency situations.

"We had an incident back in 1999 when we had a roof collapse at a school that was near the plant," Merrill told us. "They made their training facility available to us exclusively so that all of the children that went to the school that were affected by the roof collapse were able to go to school to Mercedes every day."

We told John O'Sullivan, Chatham-Savannah's superintendent, about the incident. "That's a good community partner," he said. "That's a good business partner."

He's looking forward to Daimler's impact on the school system, especially when it comes to foreign languages. Since DaimlerChrysler is a German company, O'Sullivan expects to hire more teachers to teach foreign languages. Something else he expects to see change is the number of students.

"I think over time we will see thousands of new faces," he said.

That's what happened in Tuscaloosa County. And here's proof: new schools going up all over the county. The priamary school pictured to the right opened just 2 1/2 years ago and is for only K through third grade. The middle school is less than ten miles away from the plant and just opened this year. And the new high school, still under construction, will hold about 1,000 students when it opens this coming August.

Merrill says all the growth isn't due to solely to Mercedes, but if it weren't for the plant, student life would certainly not be the same.

"With additional revenue, with enrichment opportunities, with the corporate achievement, with the emergency situations they've met, we could not have asked for a better corporate citizen, a better community partner," Merrill said. "We could not have asked for better friends than what Daimler-Benz has provided us."

Since the DaimlerChrysler headquarters in based in Germany, something else that's come about as a result of the plant is a student exchange program. Several American students from Tuscaloosa County have made either short or extended trips to Germany and vice-versa. That could happen here as well.

Reported by: Dmitra Denmark, bdenmark@wtoc.com

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