Albion Interactive History

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Washington Gardner School, 1927
 
     Renamed 1970s

Style +
Gothic Revival

Builder +
Leon Claucherty

Historic Designation +
Albion Area Historical Architectural Survey, 1985

Description
The building that was to become known as the Washington Gardner High School was actually an evolution of three construction projects, the first of which was the new west wing that was constructed in 1922-23. Although the cornerstone in the southwest corner of the building states "High School 1922," the dedication of this new addition actually occurred on May 9, 1923, with board president George E. Dean addressing the community. The west wing unit, designed to house the high school grades, contained ten classrooms, three laboratories, a lecture room, an art room, a mechanical drawing room, a wood shop, a sewing room, a cooking room, a gymnasium, and a swimming pool.

The total cost of the building and the equipment had come to $174,000. With its 721,000 square foot of floor space, the cost amounted to 23 cents per cubic foot. The new west addition was attached to the west side of the 1906 Central School structure. With the completion of the new addition, the junior high and high school grades held their classes in the main 1906 Central School complex and in the new west addition. The elementary school operated in the old east wing which sat in the rear of the school complex.

The second step in the evolution of the building occurred in 1926. A special meeting of the school board was held on May 17, 1926, to propose bonding the district for the building of a new grade school wing on the east side of the Central School complex. Plans called for housing junior high classes on the ground floor and elementary grades on the second and third floors. An election was held on May 28, 1926, and voters approved the issuance of $175,000 in bonds, payable at 4 1/2% interest, by 375 to 176. Fred W. Schumacher, who constructed the Austin School in 1911, was awarded the contract on October 2, 1926 for $119,435. Other contracts for plumbing and heating were also let out, and construction began.

The old 1885/1893 east wing which sat in the rear of the school complex was demolished as part of the project. The bricks and materials from this structure were used to erect the sports field house in Victory Park. The cost of erecting that building was $2,000.

Plans were changed significantly however, when on December 30, 1926 at 6:10pm, a fire was discovered in the main 1906-built Central School portion. Fire had apparently broken out in the basement under the auditorium, where construction workers had been welding pipes for the new grade school unit and where the school janitor had been storing paper and trash. Through the efforts of the Albion Fire Department and volunteers, the fire was extinguished before it gained significant headway. Damage was assessed at $16,500.43, was confined to the auditorium, hallway, and basement areas. The building and contents were fully insured. Despite the fact that only one classroom was damaged and classes were held as usual on the following Monday, many parents were concerned about the safety of the old wooden structure.

The school board voted on January 5, 1927, to abandon the 1906-built Central School structure, and on January 12, 1928 requested $100,000 in bonds for the construction of a new building. An election was held on January 21, in which voters approved the project by 369 to 141. Thus the third step of the building evolution commenced. The entire school was designed to match that of the west wing (constructed in 1922-23) and of the east wing still under construction.

The third story of the old 1885/1893 west wing, which sat in the rear of the auditorium area, was removed, leaving only the school library and the maintenance area. This section is all that remains today of the old Central School at Washington Gardner Junior High School.

A name for the school had to be selected. The following historic resolution was adopted at the February 2, 1927 school board meeting:

Whereas, Dr. Washington Gardner, during his long years of residence in the City of Albion, has exemplified in the highest manner the ideals of the public schools, "Service Not Self," serving his community, state, and country in the capacity of teacher, soldier, pastor, statesman, and federal department head, and in every place winning the universal approval of his colleagues and constituents.

Whereas, such a life is worthy to be emulated by the children in the Albion schools,

Be It Resolved: that this high school be designated the Washington Gardner High School.

When Washington Gardner High School was dedicated on February 8, 1928, Gardner was unfortunately unable to attend because of his poor physical condition. He was told however, that the new school was being named after him, and felt honored by the school board's decision.

The newly constructed unit contained fifteen classrooms, a library, a study hall, an auditorium, a shop, offices, and other facilities. The grade school portion contained fourteen classrooms and a small gymnasium. The total capacity of the entire building provided space for 1,600 students, which left the opportunity for expansion from the 1,300 students in attendance.

Albion's most distinguished citizen died on Saturday March 31, 1928 at the age of 83, only seven weeks after the school bearing his name had opened. Flags in the city were lowered to half mast. The afternoon of his funeral, classes were suspended, and the student body en masse paid their respects at the First Methodist Church to this great civic leader and servant. Businesses were closed, factories shut down, and hundreds of persons attended the funeral and services and procession to Riverside Cemetery, where he was buried. He was given a full military funeral, as the city of Albion mourned the loss of this great man.

The need for a new high school facility to replace Washington Gardner High School was apparent by the late 1950s, as school administrators observed the post-World War II baby boom and the surge in school population. Even after the elementary students were transferred to Harrington School, the Washington Gardner facility was rapidly filling to capacity. Furthermore, the early 1960s marked the time when the surrounding rural school districts were annexed into the Albion Public Schools, thus increasing enrollment and expenses.

With the building of the Senior High School, many changes of necessity followed. Only the seventh through ninth grades remained at the Washington Gardner building. For the first time, the Junior High students were able to choose their own private lockers; previously they had to share with one or two other students. The openness of the space and the sparsely populated hallways were in marked contrast to the density of the student population which had existed during the first semester of the 1966-67 school year. The ninth grade was moved to the Albion Senior High in September, 1971.

Even after the senior high students moved into their new school, bomb threats continued at the Washington Garner Junior High School. Junior high students enjoyed having an afternoon off, and a bomb scare seemed just the thing to produce it. Wise administrators however, turned the tables on whomever did the calling. Instead of sending the student home, they sent them to the First United Methodist Church up the street until the school was searched and deemed safe. By that time it was well past time for school to get out. Students were finally dismissed from school much later than the regular time. There were no more bomb scares at Washington Gardner Junior High School after that.

The sixth grade students from all elementary schools were moved to the Washington Gardner Junior High School beginning with the 1967-68 school year. The Austin School which was being utilized as the administration headquarters, was closed permanently at the end of December 1970. Administrative offices were relocated on the third floor of the east wing of Washington Gardner Junior High School.


The Hon. Washington Gardner (1845-1928)


New High School West Wing, built in 1922-23.


Unusual photograph taken in the fall of 1926, showing construction of the new east unit, with the older Central School and wings in the center.

Source: Frank Passic. A History of the Albion Public Schools. Albion, Michigan: E. Weil Publishing Services. 1991.

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