BELTON — It always boiled down to Belton vs. Temple.
That rivalry fueled diehards of both neighboring school districts for decades — and even continues in a more low-key manner today.
But Lake Belton High School students will not know that feud. They only will know the two cities as one entity — home.
The interior of Belton Independent School District’s second comprehensive high school — located in Temple near State Highway 317 and FM 2483 — will reflect that.
“This building is more than just a structure. This building is going to tell our story — our current story,” said Jill Ross, the current Belton High School principal who in August will become Lake Belton High School’s first principal.
Large photos of historic Belton and Temple will grace the campus’ four classroom areas and hallways of the school. These areas are named after themes that reflect Bell County’s history.
Belton school administrators, Telegram staff writer Patricia Benoit — who donated the photos from a collection of 18,000 pictures she and her husband have — and nearly 100 seventh-graders from Lake Belton Middle School and North Belton Middle School worked together to name these areas for the campus they will attend.
Barbara Epperson, Belton ISD’s secondary social studies coordinator, said it made sense to go to middle schoolers to help guide this project. They don’t sugarcoat anything, she said.
“Because you need seventh-graders to tell you how it is, and you don’t want people who are going to be nice,” Epperson said, explaining they helped refine the themes and the names, and told her what they liked and did not like. “Something as basic as Main Street, which we were thinking for a hallway, they automatically told me … that should be the main hallway.”
The Depot. The Prairie. The Springs. The Line.
These are the names of Lake Belton High School’s four classroom areas, also referred to as neighborhoods.
“Within the building, the architects have put together areas that are designed (for students) to collaborate and to facilitate collaboration. The architects call them neighborhoods,” Ross said. “These neighborhoods will create the places of learning. They also will assist the students as they find their way about the building.”
North Belton Middle School student Kaleice Caine said the railroad was the lifeblood of the area.
That’s one reason why Caine and her fellow students decided to name one classroom area the Depot. A large photo of the Santa Fe Depot in downtown Temple will represent the railroad in the new high school. The photo depicts the depot around 1910 to 1915.
“The cities of Belton and Temple’s roots, culture and industry are all tied to the railroad and make the cities what they are today,” Caine said. “The Santa Fe Depot is recognizable from back then to now.”
As for the Prairie area, Lake Belton Middle School student Aaliyah Carranza said it represents Bell County’s strong agricultural industry.
“The cities of Belton and Temple are the gateways to the Blackland Prairie to the east,” she said.
The students wanted another area named the Springs, Lake Belton Middle School student Stephanie Martinez said, because the local water features were important to the Native Americans who lived here.
She said Native Americans would meet at the springs to trade food, goods and knowledge.
The Line area represents the trolley system that once linked Belton and Temple around the turn of the 1900s.
“This symbol of connecting both towns was important for us to include as a hallway,” Lake Belton Middle School student Jameela Cordero said. “The two cities needed to be connected. Because of this, the Interurban was created in 1904. It was an electric trolley system that contained 12 miles of track looping the two cities’ main commerce, medical and residential areas. Temple and Belton depended on each other for trade and government.”
Lake Belton High School features a link that connects its indoor and outdoor classrooms. This connection will be called the Bridge. A large photo of a bridge will be on the link.
“Bridges are so important for our hometown, and it’s a great fit for the bridge at Lake Belton High School,” North Belton Middle School student Rebekah McGuire said. “Bridges have always been vital to Belton and to Central Texas.”
‘Two communities coming together’
The heart of the high school, like Temple and Belton, will be Main Street — a large gathering area.
North Belton Middle School student Hannah Wood and Lake Belton Middle School student Jillian Schaefer explained why they named their future high school’s main hallway Main Street.
“Main Street represents the heart of the city and its downtown. Anywhere you go you’re getting on Main Street because it’s the main street,” Wood said.
A corner of the Main Street hallway will feature photos of downtown Belton and Temple in the early 1900s.
“It really symbolizes two communities coming together,” designer Jayna Duke said.
School board president Sue Jordan was moved after seeing the plans for how Temple and Belton will be united in Lake Belton High School.
“Having been reared in this particular area and knowing what it was like when it was Temple vs. Belton or Belton vs. Temple, and to see all of this coming together, I know it’s just a high school, but it’s not just a high school,” she said. “To be able to walk on Main Street — one side Temple and one side Belton — it stirs up emotions within me that you all cannot image.”
‘Treating it with such respect’
Board Secretary Janet Leigh described this project as beautiful and far from anything she could have imagined.
“This is very emotional for me. My kids will tell you when I talk about the opportunity to sit on the school board in BISD at this time in history — at this time in our community — they know I cry because this is incredibly meaningful to me to have grown up here, raised my children here and to have been a part of the rich heritage,” Leigh said.
It was scary, Leigh said, to move forward with a second high school, choose a new mascot for the campus and put it in Temple — Belton’s perceived “big rival.”
“People were scared. They were afraid we wouldn’t do it right,” she said. “I see this and I see how we honored our heritage and how you are bringing us together, and you’re treating it with such respect and such dignity.”
Students’ attitudes have changed, said Benoit, the local historian who helped the district with this project.
“There’s no such thing in their minds as a rivalry between the two cities, which used to be 100 years ago,” Benoit said. “These kids are growing up with a whole different identify.”