NOTICE: The Central Parking Lot will be CLOSED on Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4 for The Friends Bag of Books Sale.

Vine Street School

Vine School, c.1882-1892. PHOTOGRAPH FILE P-286

It has been an elementary school, a junior high school, an ‘alternative’ high school, and once more, an elementary school with a specific focus on bilingual instruction (El Sol Elementary School). The Vine School, whoever its student body, has remained a mainstay in the Vine Neighborhood at Oak and Vine streets since 1881, when the cornerstone of the first building was laid. The late 19th century saw an ever-increasing number of students in the district, compelling the board of education to address the issue of overcrowded buildings by increasing the number of elementary schools throughout those portions of the city experiencing steady growth. Over the years, there have been several school buildings to occupy the corner and just as many additions made to those buildings.

First Building (1881-1904)

A year after the nearby Old Union School on West Street (aka Westnedge Avenue) was demolished after suffering damage from an earthquake, the board of education set out to rebuild both a new high school and the Vine School. A voter approved tax passed in the summer of 1880, allowing the board of education to go forward with the construction of the two schools. After the necessary public utilities were in place, the school’s construction began in the summer of 1881. The school’s design was formulated by E.S. Jennison, an architect from Chicago. However, it appears that during the construction period, late in 1881, there were questions raised as to the quality of the construction of the two buildings being built. A scornful letter printed in the Gazette in November and signed by “Taxpayer”, expressed frustration with the board’s inadequate level of oversight of the entire project, as well as disappointment in the razing of the original Union School.

“The result of the recent examinations of the new school buildings on Vine street by the very capable committee of experts, Messrs. Bush, Beeman and Roberts, chosen by the board of education for that purpose, as given in Sunday morning’s Gazette, discloses certainly a very startling condition of affairs in that direction, and must fill every taxpayer in the village with consternation and surprise. How it happened, that members of the board, venerable in years and business experience, men of sagacity to manage their own private affairs, should have been so grossly deceived in the matter of the plans, specifications, style of architecture, construction , etc., upon so simple a question as the erection of two school houses for the proper accommodation of a given number of pupils, is past finding out. The committee named many grave defects, there are others that they did not allude to, that are even more serious in character.”

“How the board could have accepted plans, and entered upon the erection of other buildings whose foundations are far above the frost line, whose walls are thin and not protected from storms by overhanging eaves, whos arches sag, whose roofs leak, and are liable at any time to crush in of their own weight; all this and more, is as inexplicable, as were the love amours of the younger Sammy with the pretty bar maid of the Blue Boar, to the elder.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 November 1881

Even U.S. Senator Charles E. Stuart felt compelled to weigh in on the controversy, writing a biting open letter on 9 December 1881, raising questions about the stability of the structures. After the proper modifications to the structure were made during the winter and spring of 1882, the school officially opened to students in September.

Second Building (1905-1963, with additions)

A fire in January of 1904 destroyed the first version of the Vine School. Fortunately, the costly fire did not result in any casualties due to the quick response of faculty and students, aided by an effective fire alarm.

Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-19-1904

A replacement school arrived a year later, when it was dedicated in April of 1905. A district-wide building boom took place in the 1920s, leading to a major addition to the west side of the school in 1924. Beginning sometime in the early 1920s, the school housed both elementary age (K-2) and junior high school students (grades 3-5).

Vine School with 1924 addition, c.1940

The next significant change to the Vine School facilities came in 1963, when the district agreed to tear down the 1905 portion of the school, remodel the 1924 addition, and then add a modern wing that wrapped around the corner, facing Oak Street. The initial cost came to $356,000. Trend Associates of Kalamazoo, a local design firm, were tapped to design the new U-shaped structure.

An ‘Alternative’ High School (1983-2005)

“Students with the following problems would be considered for the program: absenteeism, disruptiveness, repeated grade failures, lack of sufficient credits for grade placement and poor motivation.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 August 1983

By the fall of 1983, the Vine School was not currently housing active classes because of declining enrollment, and so as a renewed attempt to address at-risk students who required an ‘alternative’ curriculum and environment, the Vine Alternative High School was born. Endorsed by KPS Superintendent Frank Rapley as a corrective solution to students struggling to succeed in a traditional high school framework, the new program also included students from the Parchment School District. The rehabilitation model served roughly 100 students ranging in age from 14 to 18. The plan created the opportunity for students to return to their home school at the conclusion of each semester if they met “guidelines for improvement in the following areas: basic skills, behavorial management, attendance and pre-vocational awareness.” (KG) During its debut school year (1983-84), the school was staffed with 7 teachers and 1 counselor-administrator.

Around 2005, the school district reorganized their services for students needing an alternative experience, thus ending the two-decade long program at the corner of Oak and Vine streets, making way for the return of an elementary school, one with a bilingual immersion curriculum (El Sol Elementary School).

Artist rendering of the 1963 Vine School addition

Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, May 2023


“An Open Letter from Hon. Chas. E. Stuart on the Vine Street Schools”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 December 1881

“Vine Street School Destroyed by Fire”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 January 1904

“Vine School Plans Given Initial Okay”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 January 1963

“School is Ok’d for Pupils with Problems”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 August 1983

“Vine School to Become Alternative Education Center”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 August 1983

Local History Room File

Subject File: Kalamazoo Public Schools – Vine Elementary (Junior High School)

Share: Facebook Twitter