A History of Coldwater Community Schools
Written by Dr. Stan Bushouse & Fred Hobart; Updated & Edited by Sean Watson
The Coldwater Community Schools, which presently serves the needs of approximately 3500 students in grades kindergarten through twelve, has developed from the embryonic beginning of the community in 1830, to providing high school diplomas to over 13,000 students. Over the span of 166 years many changes have taken place in providing for the education of the youth of this community.
Two years after Hugh Campbell established the first homestead, a Miss Cynthia Gloyd began imparting the three R's to the children of the community, known then as Lyon. History indicates that this 1832 attempt at education included nine children and represented the beginning of formal education in Coldwater.
In 1834, a red schoolhouse was erected on the northeast corner of Pearl and Hudson Streets and served as the community's school until five years later when another school district was organized. This new district, School District Number 11, erected a white schoolhouse on the corners of Pearl and Clay Streets at the cost of $475. By this time sixty-eight students were learning under the direction of Hiram Shoulder. The duration of the school year was four and one-half months.
In 1854, the two districts merged, forming the Union School District. This joint board embarked on the building of the Union School, a three-story, brick building, which was opened in 1862. In this facility the third floor was reserved for high school instruction. Historical data shows that the first diplomas were awarded at this building in 1868 to a graduating class of three students: Eliza Benton, Russell F. Tinkham, and Charles N. Legg. The curriculum included spelling, reading, arithmetic and geography for primary and intermediate students, while more advanced students studied grammar, US History, natural philosophy, physiology, Latin, Greek and French.
The expansion of the district occurred rapidly in the late 1800's. Concern of overcrowding in classrooms prompted the board of education to begin construction on a number of units. Historical accounts show the "Old White Schoolhouse" had from thirty to fifty students crowded into areas designed as cloakrooms.
By 1873, the high school was successfully established, and in that year, became the fourth high school in the state to be accredited by the University of Michigan. It was continuously accredited by the U of M until that body was disbanded in the early 1990's.
In January 1890, the building known as Central School, located on the Pearl and Hudson Streets site, burned to the ground, forcing classes to be held in public buildings for the remainder of the school year. By fall of the same year, a two-story, brick structure was opened on the same site, which is presently a parking lot for the Court House. This building, renamed Lincoln School, served all grades until overcrowding forced the construction of a new high school.
In the early teen's the athletic teams were named the Maroons, and then changed to the Cardinals, but no specific dates were available at this writing.
By coincidence, in the late teens, a professional football team in Chicago had purchased old maroon colored jerseys from the University of Chicago, and changed their name to the Maroons. With age, the color of the jerseys faded and the owner believed the color to be more like that of the cardinal bird. In 1920, he changed the name of the team to the Chicago Cardinals.
On August 21, 1929, the Chicago Cardinals became the first professional football team to hold a training camp in a city other than their home. On this date, they opened camp in Coldwater, Michigan.
It is believed that some connection between Coldwater and the Chicago Cardinals existed for these events to occur. Possibly, with the opening of the Roosevelt High School in 1923, the Cardinal Mascot was also adopted.
With a growing population, the third floor of the Lincoln building could no longer serve the educational needs of the secondary students. In 1923, Roosevelt High School was opened on the property next to the Lincoln building, but facing Washington Street.
The four-story brick building included a 400-seat auditorium, gymnasium, and shop. It served students in grades 7 through 12 until Coldwater High School opened in the spring of 1957. It then continued to house grades 7 and 8 until the opening of Legg Junior High in 1966.
In 1924, Roosevelt High School gained admission to the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges and became fully accredited. This affiliation was transferred to the new Coldwater High School and has been maintained through the years on a fully accredited status.
In the early 60's, with construction of new elementary schools Lincoln's use as a school building was discontinued and was used as the district's administrative offices and for storage. Following the 1963-64 school year the building was sold to the county for additional parking and was demolished. The board offices then moved to a house, adjacent to the Roosevelt building on a site where the present public safety building exists. In 1966, with the opening of Legg Junior High, the board of education offices moved to the Roosevelt building.
Through efforts of CHS government teacher John Keeslar, the bell from the old Lincoln building was recovered and mounted on a permanent structure at Cardinal Field in the late 70's.
As the community grew, so did the school system. A number of wood-frame buildings were replaced with more permanent brick and concrete structures. In 1935, the Washington Elementary School was constructed on Morse Street, designed to house one classroom each for grades K-6. In the 1980-81 school year, it was closed as an elementary school due to budget cuts and declining enrollment. It then served as the district's administration building, until its re-opening in the late 1980's.
Edison Elementary School, a two-story brick elementary school was constructed in 1948, to handle the continued growth in the community.
In 1950, Cardinal Field was constructed on the southern end of what was the Legg Airport. The football and track activities were moved from its existing site at Waterworks Park. The airport hangar remained and eventually was used by the district for maintenance of its buses and housed the grounds equipment until it was replaced by the existing building in the late 80's.
In 1954, the Lakeland School District constructed their brick facility to house students in grades K through 8, with high school age students attending Coldwater High on a tuition basis. In 1963, the Lakeland District was annexed to the Coldwater Community Schools. Their superintendent, Alfred Clyne, became the Coldwater assistant superintendent as a result of the consolidation.
Community growth and annexations of smaller rural districts increased student enrollment to a point where a new modern high school facility was needed. In 1956, construction began on Coldwater High School, a $1.3 million, 34-classroom building at the Legg Airport site on North Fremont Street. The facility opened in the spring of 1957 with a planned enrollment of 650 in grades 9-12. The Roosevelt building became a junior high school housing grades seven and eight.
Jefferson Elementary School was constructed on Vans Avenue in 1957 to house one classroom each of grades K-6. Because of increased enrollment, additional classrooms and a media center where added in 1962.
Also in 1957, Franklin Elementary School was constructed on South Fremont Street. It was also set up as a single section K-6 building. It continued as an elementary school until the 1980-81 school year when it was closed due to declining enrollments and financial difficulties in the district. It later was reopened as the Community Education Center, housing the adult education programs.
The Girard Board of Education closed a number of its one-room buildings and constructed the Girard Elementary School in 1960. It became part of the consolidation vote of 1963 and was annexed to the school system, along with the Lakeland district. In 1982, it was closed due to declining enrollments and budget cuts. Within a few years of its closing it was reopened to serve grades K-5.
The demand for elementary space continued and in 1963 the Board of Education constructed the Lincoln Elementary School on Tibbits street.
In 1966, Legg Middle School was constructed on Green Street with the property donated to the district from Mrs. Louis Legg. During design a donation from an anonymous donor was received with the stipulation that the district provide matching funds to include a planetarium. As a result, Coldwater became one of two schools in the state to have such a facility. On opening, the ninth grade was moved from CHS and the building became a grade 7-9 facility. The Roosevelt Building became the Administrative Center and also housed the Community Education program, until sold in the late 80's.
In the late 1960's the St. Charles Parochial School board chose to discontinue offering elementary school services. To accommodate the potential influx of elementary students into the district, the Coldwater Schools leased their facilities and established another elementary school, utilizing most of the existing teaching staff and principal. This operation continued until the budget cuts of 1980-81.
In 1971, the Branch Area Careers Center opened to serve the needs of vocational and technical training for Branch County youth. County residents within the Branch Intermediate School District, (Bronson, Coldwater, and Quincy) approved a bond issue for construction and a charter millage for operation.
Twenty years after the opening of Coldwater High School, designed for 650 students, the enrollment in grades 10-12 was approaching 1100. To address the issue, the board of education voted to issue bonds to add six new classrooms, and make major additions to the cafeteria and library. These new additions were opened for use in February of 1977.
In 1979, funds left over from the 1977 bonding were used to construct a 20-foot addition to the wing housing classrooms for woods, metals, and art at the high school.
Because of severe financial conditions and declining enrollment, a major change in the district's structure occurred in the 1980-81 school year. Major cuts in staff and programming occurred including the closing of Franklin, Washington and St. Charles elementary schools, the laying off of 28 teachers, eliminating all transportation, elementary music and physical education, all athletics and extra-duty positions. Sixth grade was moved to Legg Junior High with a name change to Legg Middle School and the ninth grade was moved back to the high school. Student enrollment that year reached 1142 at CHS.
Transportation was restored by December of that year due to a special millage election approval by voters, and Varsity and JV sports were funded by the athletic boosters. Efforts on behalf of the members of this group resulted in the passage of an extracurricular millage in June of 1982 to restore all of the extra-duty positions. Because of continued financial problems, the Girard Elementary school was closed at the end of the 1981-82 school year.
In 1984, a $50,000 press box and new lighting on one side of the field were added. The press box facility was constructed entirely through the fund raising of the booster group. Also in 1984, the board of education approved the construction of the bus garage/stockroom facility, replacing the old airport hangar. In 1989, a new all-weather track was added, with considerable fund raising by the booster group.
In the spring of 1990, the board of education purchased the former Wick Homes, Inc., building on S. Michigan Avenue for its administrative building, moving from the Legg farm house on West Chicago which had been leased for the three previous years.
In 1994, voters approved a $12.6 million renovation/expansion of the Coldwater High School. Ten new classrooms, a cafetorium, and a gymnasium were added with extensive renovation of much of the existing building occurring. In the process, nearly $1 million was spent on providing up-to-date technology throughout the building. In the fall of 1996, the newly renovated building was dedicated.
In 2001, voters approved an $18.6 million bond issue to replace Edison Elementary School, and make additions and renovations to Girard, Lakeland, Jefferson and Lincoln buildings. The Max Larsen Trust donated $6 million to the construction of the new elementary with the provision that it would be named Max Larsen Elementary. Sufficient space was included to allow for the closing of the Washington Elementary school at the end of the 2002-03 school year.
Computer technology had its early beginnings in Coldwater in the late 1960's when assistant superintendent Al Clyne established an IBM mini-computer and key punch operation to handle the district’s financial and payroll work. In the early 70's Clyne was a key player in the establishment of ACCESS as part of the Calhoun ISD services, providing the data processing link to Wayne ISD for student and financial accounting via mainframe computer. Coldwater has been a member of ACCESS ever since.
The first personal computer, a Commodore Pet with 8K of memory, was purchased at Coldwater High School in the fall of 1978. By the early 80's ACCESS terminals were in the high school guidance department, middle school, and administration. The typing classes had replaced their electric typewriters with IBM PCjr’s, and the elementary classrooms were being outfitted with Apple //e’s.
With the approval of the bond issue for the high school, a technology plan for the district was needed. In February of 1994, the board of education approved the technology plan that guided the construction at the high school and the implementation of technology throughout the district.
Four years after the adoption of the plan a majority of all elements were in place throughout the district. All ten buildings in the district had a computer network, with at least one networked computer in each classroom or office, a telephone in every classroom, a scanner, and laser printer.
In the late '90's the Coldwater Board of Public Utilities connected all in-town buildings together into a Wide Area Network, providing every networked computer with access to the Internet, using the CBPU fiber backbone. In 2002, wireless towers were added to Lakeland and Girard to provide high speed connection to the network and Internet through the CBPU head end.
With the addition of Max Larsen Elementary school, in 2003, and the renovation of the other four in 2002-2004, a computer lab was added to each as well as upgraded technology for each media center.