Manual Training Program
One year later, Kalamazoo became the first city in Michigan where voters approved the funding of a manual training program. Such classes had been offered in the schools previously, but not at this level. The program would span from grade school through high school. The 1891 Annex, was remodeled and renamed the Manual Training School. Not long after this, the high school became to be known as “Central High School.”
By 1909, the high school was overcrowded. On 5 June1911 voters gave the Board permission to raise $280,000 for a new gymnasium and classroom buildings for the high school.
The Fourth Building: A "Complete High School"
An article in the Kalamazoo Gazette dated 8 February1912 said, “No city in the country will have a more complete high school and manual training building than Kalamazoo…” The new gymnasium, which was ready by October 1912, faced Dutton Street and contained two gymnasiums, an indoor track and a swimming pool. Built on the site of the 1891 Grammar School/Annex was a 4-story manual training/classroom building. Along with laboratories and classrooms, there was a “model housekeeping suite” which had a kitchen, dining and living rooms, laundry and bedroom for girls who would be taught the care of each room.
It was felt that these buildings would take care of any future student increase for the next twenty-five to thirty years, but a mere nine years later overcrowding again prompted the Board to ask for funding to build more classrooms and voters approved the proposal on 29 June 1922 which also called for the demolition of the 1898 high school building. Robinson and Campau’s 1911 plans were used for the north wing. Local architect Rockwell A. LeRoy designed a classroom building that would connect the north wing to the gymnasium and also to the new auditorium also designed by him. The two classroom buildings, completed in 1923, would add sixty new rooms. It was estimated that the entire complex would hold 1500 to 1800 students. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported on 17 August 1922, “…the Central high school plant will in the not far distant future be one of the finest and most complete in Michigan.” The new auditorium, completed in 1924, seated close to 3,000 people and became more than just a location for school productions; it became a community auditorium. It was the site for the Kalamazoo Symphony, the Civic Players, and a venue for big band concerts and traveling symphonies from Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Boston. During its dedication in October, the Gazette said, “It is immense, comfortable, atmospheric without frills; indeed it is the embodiment which represents a great commonwealth of opportunity.” In another article that month, the newspaper commented on the entire complex, “Standing for what it does, it is not an expense but an investment of the soundest kind.”
There were no major changes to the buildings over the next thirty years, due mostly to the national economy and World War II. In 1955 Miller-Davis Construction Company remodeled the science laboratories, lecture rooms, locker rooms and swimming pool from plans drawn by local architect M. C. J. Billingham. In 1960 the Kalamazoo Foundation funded an extensive renovation of the auditorium, which received new seats, new lighting and new dressing room facilities along with changes to the stage and the orchestra pit.
Plans for a New Facility: The Fifth High School Building
Overcrowding once more was the reason the Board of Education began in the mid-1960s to look at Central High School. In 1960, the School District opened a second high school to the south named Loy Norrix High School. Voters defeated a proposal in 1967 to replace Central High School, to expand Loy Norrix, to build a new third high school, and to make improvements to other district buildings.
On 16 December 1968 the Board approved a smaller plan to build a new high school on Drake Road and to enlarge Loy Norrix that did not require a public vote. Architect Jerry Klingele from Louis C. Kingscott & Associates designed the new building; Johnson-Klein, Inc. built it. Fourteen different names were suggested for the new structure, but the new school would be called Kalamazoo Central High School.
Along with the committees that studied the future of high school in Kalamazoo, other committees were looking into the explosive subject of how the schools in the city could be racially balanced. There was a great deal of unrest in certain schools, Central being one of them. Studies showed that there was a racial disparity between schools. For example, in 1969 16.9% of the student population at Central was African-American as opposed to 1.6% at Loy Norrix. The Board approved a plan in January 1971 for the fall to racially balance the schools using busing, although a new Board overturned it. The NAACP filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against the District that resulted in an opinion that implemented the plan for the fall of 1971. The case, known as Oliver v. Kalamazoo Board of Education, made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court which, like the United States Court of Appeals, rejected the School District’s appeal to overturn the plan for court-ordered busing to achieve racial balance.
New Kalamazoo Central High School
The new Kalamazoo Central High School opened to students on 31 January1972 for the start of a new semester. Sitting on fifty-nine acres, the building had four “pods” which held spaces for academic, athletic and other purposes. Students continued to use the auditorium at the old building, renamed that same year for Howard Chenery, a long-time drama teacher at Central who served as the auditorium’s manager and had been heavily involved with Kalamazoo’s theater community. In 2005, Central High School added a new auditorium at the Drake Road campus.
Life at Old Kalamazoo Central
The old Central High School building was renamed the Community Education Center in 1972. Since then it has been home to a variety of Kalamazoo Public School programs and offices including, since 1987, the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center. Chenery Auditorium continues to be a site for local and visiting performances for all ages and is a favorite venue for the Irving S. Gilmore Keyboard Festival held every two years.
Times have changed, buildings and people have come and gone, but since 1858, the main purpose of the buildings that have been a part of this site has not changed. It should give Kalamazoo a sense of pride that thousands of young people have walked through the hallways of these buildings, past and present, hopefully with a desire to learn, helped by thousands of teachers with a desire to teach.