By Rich Place

The new multipurpose gymnasium at Ellicottville Central School will now be known as “The Ward” as part of a tribute to Mark Ward, who oversaw the facility’s construction as one of dozens of ties to his local school district.

The facility — officially dedicated with a plaque Monday as the Mark J. Ward Center for the Arts and Athletics — pays tribute to Ward, a familiar face at a school district he attended as a kindergartener in 1958 and retired from as superintendent last year. The multipurpose gymnasium, part of a $9.8 million capital project, opened in September 2015 and was a project Ward was passionate about heading into his final years as Ellicottville superintendent.

On Monday, his successor, Bob Miller, took time to reflect on Ward’s career — both his student career that started at the Great Valley School through his recent superintendency — to the student body, which often erupted in applause during the assembly.

When it was Ward’s turn to say a few words, he said he was humbled by the dedication and repeatedly said the facility was built with the students in mind.

“It isn’t about one person,” he said. “It’s about a feeling. It’s about a school and a community that works together.”

Miller said one of the primary reasons the facility, a joint gymnasium and performing arts complex, bears Ward’s name is because of Ward’s involvement as an ECS student in both areas of student life.

“What do you get when these two worlds collide — somebody that has this athletic background and this performing arts background?” Miller asked. “You end up with the facility you are sitting in right now.”

After college, Ward returned to Ellicottville as a teacher and, at one time or another, coached football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. His accomplishments stretch beyond Ellicottville most notably in sports, where he served on Section 6 committees and president of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association from 2010 to 2012.

On an administrative level, Ward served as assistant high school principal and high school principal in the late ‘80s and 1990s. He left the district in 2000 and served as superintendent at Salamanca and Olean before coming back to Ellicottville to serve as its superintendent in 2008.

Upon his retirement last June, the board renamed the multipurpose gymnasium in his honor, prompting the unveiling of the plaque that will hang above one of the main entrances to the facility after being unveiled on Monday.

Miller said that around 2010 Ward began talking with the board — along with engineers and other officials who would eventually become part of the project — to develop the multipurpose gymnasium.

The project was approved by voters in March 2013. In addition to the new gymnasium facility, the project also included new music rooms, main entrance renovations, updates to some of the school’s oldest classrooms and a new waiting area for students in the rear of the building.

The multipurpose gymnasium was the obvious highlight of the project. It allows for the small school — with a population of less than 700 students — to combine a gymnasium and performing arts facility in one. Movable bleachers can be transported closer to the stage, located along one side of the room.

“All of you will benefit — and already do — from this facility,” Ward told the students on Monday.

The district has hosted graduation ceremonies in the air-conditioned room — a welcomed feature by many for the late June events originally held in the old gymnasium — as well as school drama performances that were previously held for years in other locations, including the Salamanca High School.

Despite retirement, Ward isn’t a stranger to the school and performs as part of the pit band at school drama productions. He recently served as interim superintendent at Allegany- Limestone until the position was filled earlier this year.

But despite stints in other school districts, Ward on Monday left little doubt where he will always consider home.

“I’ve been in other schools and this still is No. 1 and always will be in my heart,” he said. “So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this dedication.”