Cora Jane Spiller has fond memories of the old “training school” at what is now WKU. In 1946, Spiller graduated from College High, which served as a training ground for college students studying to be teachers.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Spiller, of Oakland, said. “Since most students started in kindergarten and continued through 12th grade, and class sizes were small, we have been able to keep up with fellow students.”
College High closed in 1970, and the training school building, which became Science and Technology Hall, has housed various programs since. On Saturday, Spiller and other College High alumni celebrated the renovation and renaming of their former school building.
“College High Hall is a tribute to the thousands of elementary and secondary students who attended the old College High,” WKU President Gary Ransdell said. “To completely restore that building, and give it new life, is pretty neat. And I think that it is neat to pay tribute to College High and all of the students who when through College High, most of whom came to WKU.”
College High Hall, fresh from $6.8 interior renovation and reconfiguration, is now home to the Department of Mathematics and the dean’s offices for Ogden College of Science and Engineering. Dr. Ransdell said it is fitting that mathematics, which is a high academic priority at WKU, has a new home in the renovated building.
“Naming this building College High Hall is a tribute to its history and past,” Dr. Ransdell said. “Housing the Math Department there shows the value we place on math as a part of a WKU education.”
Project Manager Ben Johnson said work included installation of an elevator, complete reworking of floors, lighting, communication and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, new walls and updated rest rooms. He added the building had not been substantially renovated since the 1950s.
While most of the focus was on the interior, work also included a new roof, a paint/sealer on the brick exterior and removal of a parking lot in back that is now part of the pedestrian walkway.
The project was funded through a student campus rebuilding fee, “so we renovated that building and facilitated our math curriculum with our own campus funds,” Dr. Ransdell said.
College High Hall is a part of the renovation and replacement program for the science campus. “Given the age and history of the building, our first thought was to preserve it,” Dr. Ransdell said. “However, we had to conduct an engineering analysis to see if that was feasible.”
That analysis showed the structure to be sound, he said, adding, “We were able to preserve and breathe new life into it.”
For many associated with College High, the memories are more than the building.
Spiller said there was a “real sense of community” among the students and faculty. “There were some wonderful teachers, although I was scared of about half of them,” she said. That sense of community has led to many reunions since the school closed, she said.
Charles E. English Sr., a 1953 College High graduate, reminisced about his teachers from the time he started at the Training School in the fourth grade. He said all had an impact, whether teaching math, science, music or debate.
“Today we dedicate this grand old monument to a new generation,” he said. “This encore performance will be a monument to all who graduated and attended here.”
Dr. Dero Downing, WKU President Emeritus and a former coach, teacher and principal at College High, said he was “privileged to work, to learn, and to be a part of a wonderful group of colleagues who gave support and encouragement while tolerating my shortcomings. This was where students excelled and parents were advocates of educational excellence.”
That feeling fit well with the stated purpose of the school, which was to enhance and enrich the educational program of students preparing to enter the teaching profession, he said.
Now, as the building takes on another role, Dr. Downing said, “My wish is for all who serve in this place to do so with that same passion, devotion and commitment so that it preserves its niche as a ‘special place.’”
History of College High
The “Model Training School” opened in September 1906. In accordance with an agreement between the Board of Regents and Bowling Green City Schools, some of the students in the first four grades of the city schools transferred to rooms in the Southern Normal School, which became Western Kentucky State Normal School in 1907.
When Western Kentucky Normal moved to its hilltop location in 1911, the Training School also moved and was assigned to a wing of the old Potter College building. In 1912, the curriculum expanded to include eight grades. Connection with the Bowling Green schools was severed in 1920 and one year of high school work was added.
In 1925, the school moved into its own building designed by Atlanta architect Ten Eyck Brown and the program expanded to include kindergarten through 12th grade. College High’s first commencement was in May 1926 with 10 graduates. Because of accessibility to WKU personnel and facilities, College High students enjoyed unusual opportunities in music, art, industrial arts, drama, science and other academic and extracurricular activities.
College High closed on May 29, 1970.