Chesterton Tribune

History of Chesterton High School

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By VICKI URBANIK

The headline in the Chesterton Tribune reads: "High School Building to Give Far Greater Facilities For This Community." With the new $70.9 million Chesterton High School now open, that headline could easily be on any front page these days.

But the headline actually appeared more than 75 years ago, in the Tribune's Dec. 14, 1922 issue, as the community was about to celebrate the new Westchester Township High School located on Morgan Avenue-a building that the Tribune described in a news story as "wonderful."

Just like today's school, the new high school that opened in 1924 was prompted by a growing community, a rise in student enrollment, and substandard school conditions, all marked by years of study into how best to prepare for the education of tomorrow.

A Dec. 22, 1921 Tribune story reflected how community leaders tried to embrace the future when planning the new high school.

"One feature of the building is that it is so designed that whenever future development of the community demands it, the structure can easily be expanded, and additions built which will harmonize with the original building in every particular."

But the new high school in 1924 wasn't the beginning or the end of the CHS story. Just as the 1924 high school in particular, and the school system in general, would undergo many changes over the next seven decades, local education changed dramatically in the decades preceding the Westchester Township High School.

Early History

The first known school in Westchester Township was held in the home of Jesse Morgan, the first postmaster in the area, in the winter of 1833-34. One reference said the teacher was an itinerant who boarded with the family; another source identified him as Alex Pravonzy, an early Russian settler.

The first free-standing school is open to some interpretation. Several sources say it was the Morgan school, established in the winter of 1836 in an abandoned trading post near the present Sand Creek golf course. The school was a log cabin, with oiled paper windows, log benches for seating, a fireplace for heating and no running water. The building later burned. Other sources say the first school was known as the old Red Schoolhouse, built by Irish Catholics and paid for by a $2,886 bequest of Rose Howe. (One source says a "red brick schoolhouse" replaced the Morgan log cabin at its site and was moved to become a private residence in 1977. Another source says the Howe-bequested school was erected in Brown's field and was painted red.)

In 1840, William Thomas II donated land and lumber for a two-room school building located on Indiana Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets.

Several sources say that during the Civil War years, there was a public school on this site that was likely made of wood construction and fell into disrepair. The 1972 CHS booklet claims that this was the first public school, built in 1852, and that citizens later "complained of its rickety condition."

The 1913 Chesterton Schools yearbook states: "At this time public buildings in Chesterton were scarce, so that this small building not only served as a place for holding school, but also as a meeting house where public gatherings and religious services were held. Then, too, the Civil War, which was raging at this time, often caused the people to assemble at this school house. A number of our aged settlers can well remember the long arguments and the heated disputes which arose between the members of the different parties assembled there."

First High School

In 1879, at a cost of $6,000, a two-story, two room brick schoolhouse, was built east of the original school on the Indiana Avenue property. It would later house Chesterton's very first high school.

The school experienced growing pains just a few years after it was built.

"The School House Problem" read a small headline of the Oct. 3, 1889 Tribune. The story said the crowded school conditions had prompted discussion of a bigger school.

"A number of people say that a union school house for the two towns, Chesterton and Hageman, is the most feasible one. It has been stated that the erection of a large school house between Chesterton and Hageman, would cause the erection of dwelling houses between the two towns, and cause them to grow together, that the people would naturally become united, and that the spirit of antagonism, which now exists more or less, would melt away in the united effort to build one good town in this beautiful valley."

The article went on to promote a new school and concludes: "There is one thing sure. Chesterton and Hageman must have increased school room and needs it now. Something must be done next summer, and our people had better take this winter to decide what is best for the towns, not only for the present, but for the future."

In 1890, the school was added onto by a four-room, two story building. With the partitions removed in the old building, the school house had now become six rooms. The new part was faced with pressed brick and hid the old building from street view. The contractor was Nathan DeMass and trustees were F. Burstrom and C.W. Wheeler.

The contract was let on May 15, and the total cost was $5,000.

"It may be that THE TRIBUNE is wrong, but it seems that the erection of an entirely new school building on a site where an entire block of ground could be secured, would have been better for the town, especially in view of the fact that the present school property could have been sold at a fair price. But the powers that be have willed otherwise, and we must abide by their decision."

A September, 1890 story stated: "For convenience and beauty the Chesterton school building will be second to none in the county and there will be plenty of room for all."

With the 1890 addition, the school became a graded school. But it was chiefly an elementary school, since at the time few children were educated beyond the 8th grade. One room on the second floor was set aside for high school instruction. The high school didn't receive its state commission until 1899.

In 1890, there were only two high school graduates, Hannah Whitcomb and Mae Wibert. The number of graduates increased to five the following year and in 1893 and 1896. There were two in 1897 and three in 1899. There were none in the years in between.

The school faced continued maintenance problems. In June of 1902, Township Trustee Myron Smith started repairs that included a new smoke stack and a tightening of the windows. "Last winter it was found almost impossible to keep the building heated owing to defective flues and bad window fittings," the Tribune reported. "The building has been allowed to run down for several years past, and the repair of it could not be put off any longer."

The work also included other changes that will make it "most convenient and suitable for school purposes." These included an entirely remodeled eighth grade room and two new recitation rooms. The old recitation room was said to accommodate at least 100 pupils.

The August, 15 1902 issue stated that the perhaps the most important change was the new "laboratory," which occupied the southwest basement floor, which had previously been the boys basement. "With the better drainage now possible, the sanitary and moral condition are decidedly improved. By these changes the floor space for laboratory purposes is increased and a clean, well ventilated and well lighted room is provided, one perfectly dry and easily heated. In fact, after the new apparatus has been put in place, and all things are arranged for work, Chesterton school will be able to boast of a first-class laboratory."

The article also said that the 8th grade is "seated with" the high school and will fall under the same discipline, but will recite to their own teacher in one of the new recitation rooms.

"The Tribune is glad to be able to say that we have a school of which we may justly feel proud. Prof. Roe as head of the school in general, and Prof. Farnam as head of the high school department, are laboring and have worked to make this a leading factor in the progress of our community."

Three years later, in October, 1905, the Tribune reported that a defective furnace caused the dismissal of school for two days.

Sentiment began to grow for better facilities over the next few years.

In 1911, the original 1879 school building was torn down and replaced by a larger, two-story unit that was as long as the south portion and extended to the alley on the north side. This was put into use in January, 1912. The contractor was Joseph Ameling.

A Feb. 1, 1912 story suggested that Porter County teachers go and see what Prof. Wirt is doing in Gary.

"There is a growing demand for a change in school methods in our schools, as evidenced by the number of children now sent to Gary from Chesterton. Next year, the number will be greatly increased unless the Gary methods are introduced here. We must do away with a lot of useless academic work, and get down to modern methods if we are to hold our own."

The story continued that now that the Chesterton school building has been rebuilt "it is absolutely necessary to have more ground." The article said there was "no choice" but to buy the M.E. church property and called on Trustee Gustafson and the church to "give the public what it needs" by building a new church at a different site and a new school on the church site. (Chesterton School and the playground occupied the south half of the block bounded by Second, Indiana, and Third, except for the southeast corner, on which was located the First Methodist Episcopal Church. Around 1927, the corner was purchased, and the church demolished and the property became part of the playground.)

1924 School

It wasn't until 1921 that an exploding enrollment-from 79 in 1920 to 109 the following year-prompted a "crisis" in the schools that led to the construction of the first school building specifically intended as a high school.

"The High school students are so numerous there is no place to put them. The assembly room is entirely too small," states a Sept. 8, 1921 Tribune story.

The following December, the plans were completed for a "wonderful 16-room" school and community center at 6th and Morgan. "The new school will have plenty of room for all facilities and a huge auditorium and gymnasium," the Tribune reported.

The building plans called for a three-story, 140 by 120 foot building facing north with five entrances. The auditorium would seat 750, and the 40 by 68 foot gym would have a gallery for about 400 people. The building was to be built of faced brick secured from the yards of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company.

The new building would house the high school and upper grammar grades. The Tribune reported that possibly, a rural school or two in the townships would close and the pupils transported to one of the other schools.

The story also said "there will be very little attempt at ornamentation and only a little stone used about the entrances. No tower and no elaborate cornice will be built. The expense of such ornaments will be put into features of the school more practical. At the same, the building will be symmetrical and pretty."

The total cost was $156,000, which exceeded the township's bonding limit of $150,000. Township trustee J.G. Johnson and attorney C.W. Jensen got around this by deciding to reject plumbing, heating and ventilation bids and going forward only with "the rough work" of the building, using tax money received later to complete the project.

"The building is so constructed that there are no frills in interior decoration or outside trimming that could be eliminated and keep a presentable appearance. Herbert Erickson, architect of Gary, has made the building plain, but has made its very plainness attractive in appearance," the Tribune reported.

The Chesterton State Bank purchased the building bonds at a premium of $9,300 in late May, 1922.

Meanwhile, as the school was being built, the Tribune reported in August of 1922 that a record attendance was expected that school year, prompting Trustee Johnson to lease the second story of the Nickel Drug store to house one grade, probably the sixth grade.

F. M. Goldsborough, a high school teacher, was again selected to serve as head of the Chesterton school, while Carl Sward was named principal of the Porter school.

In the elections of 1922, a new trustee was elected, Charles Pearson, who would be responsible for equipping and operating the new school.

In April of 1923, the new high school was inspected by state officials. The Tribune reported that the Chesterton school is "one of the finest in the state." The total cost was $175,000, higher than reported previously, though the story also said that at present-day prices, the cost would be at least $215,000.

Another state inspection was made in February of 1924, in which state inspectors gave high praise to Joseph Ameling, the building contractor, and Charles Nickel, the plumbing contractor. But, the Tribune said, "they criticized the electrical contractor for his slowness, and he is the only fly in the ointment."

In May, 1923, commencement exercises were held for the senior class, "the largest to be graduated from this school in its history." As it had been the tradition since 1890, the graduation ceremony was held in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

The 1923 graduates were the last to graduate from the school on Indiana Ave. In 1924, the school was badly damaged by a fire.

Township System Emerges

In 1956, Central Elementary School, located on the east side of the high school along Morgan Avenue, opened.

Two years later, the Duneland community underwent a dramatic change in its education system, when it created a township school corporation.

At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in January of 1958, CHS principal Elmer Dunbar spoke on the need for a school board, similar to the one in place in Portage. The Tribune reported "he praised the trustee system highly, but stressed that our school system has outgrown township school government and needs something better."

The biggest change was that under a school township structure, the duties that had been done by the township trustee would be handled by a school superintendent who was licensed for the job and who would answer to an elected school board.

A Chesterton Tribune editorial in the Jan. 30, 1958 issue strongly backed the change.

"This question has been considered frequently in past years and has been dismissed each time, because mankind dislikes change and also because the change from the present township trustee system to a school board was a rather difficult or at least a cumbersome procedure."

The editorial went on to say that Westchester Township has grown to the point that a full-time superintendent is needed. It also noted that many other school systems have a school board in place.

"There are many new residents in the township who are accustomed to a school board and who continually talk of 'one-man' rule and they will be better satisfied with a board," the editorial stated.

Later that month, the Chamber of Commerce approved a resolution calling for a township school board. (At this same meeting, the chamber also called for a study to merge Chesterton and Porter).

Township Trustee John Pillman and the township advisory board passed a resolution in March creating the "Westchester Township School Corporation" and dissolving the "Westchester School Township." The new school structure went into effect on July 1.

At the same meeting that the resolution was finalized, Pillman and the advisory board were striving for smaller classes-33 pupils per teacher. The Tribune also reported that the schools would have five new elementary classrooms in the fall and that it would get new buses, bringing the total to 18, in keeping with a state directive, "a seat for every child and every child in a seat."

The new five-member school board consisted of trustee John Pillman and the four citizens he appointed: Elizabeth Copp, a retired high school teacher; Edwin Nicholson, a Furnessville farmer and steel mill employee; Arthur Pillman, a Porter grocer; and Donald Jensen, a foreman at U.S. Steel Gary Works. Except for Jensen, the other board members all sat on the township advisory board as well.

The first superintendent hired was Lyle K. Klitzke, superintendent of the Plymouth schools. He was quoted as saying that the "excellent condition of the schools and realistic planning for the future reflect the attitude and interest of the community in providing good educational opportunities for their children."

In September, the board announced plans for a $584,000 physical education plant (high school gym). This was the second major addition to the high school, following the addition of classrooms in the early 1950s. There were two remonstrances against the gym filed, one from Judson Harris and one from Dr. Joseph Berkely.

Harris continued to be a thorn in the side of the school board.

In September that year, he filed a complaint that the school board was formed under the wrong state law, but in November, Judge G. L. Burns ruled that Harris, as a private citizen, didn't have the right to file the complaint. The following January, Porter County Prosecuting Attorney Alfred J. Pivarnik found no grounds to contest the legality of the school corporation, after being asked by George Bush, Harris' attorney, to act.

The gym announced in September cost $584,000, which the school board paid for by using its cumulative building fund. The board agreed in September to name the new gym after Faye Morse Goldsborough, who died five years earlier, on Dec. 9, 1954, while teaching an advanced algebra class. The board used $300 in the Goldsborough Memorial Fund to pay for a plaque for the building.

Bids for the new gym were let in November, and a groundbreaking was held in March of 1959. At that event, principal Elmer Dunbar "expressed joy in getting a building which the school system has needed for many years."

Crisis Hits

The following month, a crisis hit.

In April of 1959, 35 of the high school's 38 teachers submitted conditional resignations. They threatened to quit unless board members Edwin Nicholson, Arthur Pillman, Donald Jensen and Superintendent Klitzke resigned.

The teachers were irate because the board accepted the resignation of principal Dunbar over a contract dispute. The board offered him a contract that cut his $450 expense allowance, bringing his salary to within just $500 of the elementary supervisor.

Klitzke responded to the teacher threats by saying that no school employee other than Dunbar got an expense allowance. It was also pointed out that Dunbar's salary of $10,008 was the second highest in the state for high school principals.

But that didn't sway the teachers who felt Dunbar was treated unjustly and that there seemed to be an effort to get rid of him.

The teachers' support of Dunbar was unwavering.

"If you remove our freedom and violate our right to teach our children the way we think best, we think that it is worth our jobs," their leader said. "We stand on principle. We stand together without a crack."

The dispute intensified quickly. Later that month, prosecuting attorney  Pivarnik got a petition from 1,400 residents asking that he contest the legality of the school board. Despite his earlier stand in the Harris matter, Pivarnik complied.

A "Citizens' School Committee" was organized.

In an ad in May that sought contributions, the committee said the high school's A-1 Accreditation, which entitled graduates to enroll in whatever college they wanted without examination in the North Central area, was threatened by the impending teacher turnover.

"The self-styled School Board has made the statement 'irreparable and unnecessary damage has resulted to the education program and teaching morale on the high school level' due to our Principal's resignation. We feel the situation CAN STILL BE SAVED through legal State of Indiana action," the ad said.

In June, the Tribune reported that more than 50 people attended a "stormy" school board meeting, many of whom voiced fear about losing the accreditation.

"What constructive plan of action do you propose that we (the board and administration) take?" asked Superintendent Klitzke.

"Quit," yelled loud voices from the crowd. "You all (the board and Mr. Klitzke) should turn in your resignations," the news story read.

They didn't. Over the next few months, the dispute began to simmer down.

George Kriviskey of Lincoln, Ill., a former superintendent, was hired as the new high school principal later in June to replace Dunbar.

The Indiana State Teachers Association set up a committee to investigate the school situation. But in early July, the LaPorte Circuit Court, in response to Pivarnik's action, ruled that the school board was legal. By mid July, 30 of the 35 teachers had, in fact, resigned. But the school board filled the vacancies as they occurred.

After the judge's decision, Pivarnik said that he was the only person who could have taken the issue to court and that he did so because of the community interest. He said there would be no appeal.

"If the community wants the board out of office, they can take action in the 1960 elections," he said.

The teacher crisis appeared to be pretty much over with by early August, when the ISTA was asked to do a full-scale investigation but declined. The ISTA said there was no benefit to further study the matter and found that the teacher resignations "cannot be placed on a single individual or group of individuals."

And as for Pivarnik, he later went on to become an Indiana Supreme Court Justice.

Building Frenzy

The Westchester Schools went on a building boom in the 1960s in response to an exploding enrollment.

The largest, and most divisive in the community, was the new Westchester Junior High School on Fifth Street (now Westchester Middle School), which cost $2,672,000. The project caused a massive uproar between those for and against the school. Voters even chose a slate of school board candidates against the building. (Bethlehem Steel's Burns Harbor plant was under construction at this time, promising a strong industrial tax base. The school board ended up building the new junior high).

The first building corporation was formed to oversee the new school. The corporation began its work in 1964, and the board included Charles Kenyon, Betty Canright, Ralph Bertolacini, attorney George Bush and Herman Pope.

The year 1966 was one of immense change for the schools. In addition to the new junior high, two other major building projects were underway by 1966. One was the new Bailly Elementary School, which cost $903,500. The other was a major addition to CHS consisting of a library, new science labs and new classrooms.

The building program had been recommended by a team of consultants from Indiana University, Ball State, Purdue and Indiana State.

Klitzke told the board in February that the specific building plans hinged on possible changes in the assessment procedures of industry, which could have resulted in the school system getting less than expected assessed valuation from Bethlehem Steel. The first phase of Bethlehem had been built by then.

In March of 1966, Kriviskey stepped down as CHS principal. At the same time, Donald Bivens, who had been assistant CHS principal and who later would become superintendent in Portage Township, was named administrative assistant to Klitzke, due in part to the extensive building program underway.

In April, a school site selection committee began its work to find the site for a new elementary school, which was to become Brummitt Elementary.

In May, Klitzke ended his eight-year tenure as head of the school system when he announced that he would become principal at the new elementary school. The following month, the school board hired the 39-year-old Fairmont, Ind. superintendent, Karl Speckhard.

And in July of 1966, Dee Hand, the superintendent of the Union City schools, was named as Kriviskey's replacement. Two years later, he became business manager of the school system.

In August, the school board had two tracts of land under option to buy. One, which it paid $55,000 for, was 19.6 acres at Indian Boundary and Brummitt roads, which was to become Brummitt Elementary. The other, which it paid $50,000 for, was 25.6 acres on Haglund Road east of the Westport Community Club, a tract that remains vacant to this day.

In September, the board agreed to lease the old Thomas School to the Westchester YMCA rent free.

In October, open houses were held for the addition to CHS. At a total cost of $792,500, the addition included a library and office space, biology room, chemistry room, physics room, metal and electrical shops, machine shops, wood shop, graphic arts room, three English rooms, a business education room, and a home ec room.

As if all the building activity and personnel changes in 1966 weren't enough, the year ended with a prediction by Speckhard that within two years, the school system would face a classroom shortage. He said that at least 12 new classrooms would be needed, but that before any more could be built at the high school and Central Elementary, the old high school would have to come down.

Duneland is Born

In March of 1968, the Liberty Township Schools sought a merger with Westchester, citing rising costs and rising enrollment but no proportionate rise in the township's assessed valuation. The strong industrial base in Westchester Township seemed to be the biggest lure for Liberty.

"We are a growing community, not a farming community any longer. It is not the old Liberty Township," Liberty Township Trustee Dr. E.W. Griffith said at the time.

Meanwhile, Jackson Township planned an addition to its school but was rejected by the State Reorganization Committee. Jackson then petitioned to join in the consolidation effort.

In November of 1968, voters created the Duneland School Corporation consolidating Westchester, Liberty, Jackson and a small portion of Pine townships. The total vote was 2,877 to 2,441.

Westchester voters favored the change by a vote of 1,965 to 1,744, as did Liberty voters, 610 to 385. But the vote was unfavorable in Jackson, with 261 voters saying no and 191 saying yes. The consolidation vote was favorable in Pine, by a 71 to 51 margin.

Also in 1968, Bill Crockett was named the new CHS principal to replace Dee Hand.

CHS underwent its fourth major addition in 1968, with additional classrooms. Additions were also opened at Bailly and Central Elementary, and the board opened bids for an addition to Yost.

In March of 1968, the Westchester School Board agreed to a land swap with the town of Chesterton, in which the schools exchanged a strip on Porter Avenue west of the park-school property for a strip on Morgan Avenue. The land was needed to build a new Central School library, kindergarten and special education rooms. It was decided that the new addition would be better located east of the present building than west as originally proposed, since that would have interfered with the auditorium at the old high school.

Old CHS Comes Down

In January of 1969, the school board approved a tentative building use program for the newly created Duneland. The plan would change the current format known as K-6-3-3 (K-6 at the elementary level, three grades at the junior high and three at the high school) to a K-5-3-4 format.

The plan was to create a new, four-year high school by combining the current high school building with Central Elementary. It also included opening a new elementary school (Brummitt).

The plan was prompted by projections that the total enrollment, which had been 5,005 in 1968, would soar to 7,262 in 1975. (The actual enrollment that year was only 5,009).

The addition to CHS was significant. By absorbing Central Elementary, the new building included a new auditorium, pool, a cafeteria that could double as a study hall, shower rooms, science labs, music room, satellite library, additional shop and art classes and eight new classrooms.

The board issued an $11 million bond for the Brummitt and CHS building program.

On Feb. 12, 1970, the building project got underway with the demolition of the old Westchester Township High School of 1924, which at that time had housed special education, a library, and art rooms. The school system offered souvenir bricks to the public.

A photo in the Tribune showed Central Elementary children watching the demolition in progress.

The CHS addition, the fifth and final one, was completed in 1972. In May, the new auditorium was dedicated with a performances of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The next big building project didn't occur until April, 1980, when the board issued $5.3 million in bonds for improvements to Goldsborough gym, new gyms at Bailly and WMS, and an addition to the Instructional Materials Center. The new Jackson Elementary School was also approved in 1980.

New, New CHS

At the time when school officials were planning the 1972 CHS project, Speckhard said if the high school ever became overcrowded, the old format of K-6-3-3 could be used once again

The high school did become overcrowded. And the school system did revise its building use format, though not in the way that any one envisioned at the time.

By the time Speckhard retired and Duneland hired a new superintendent, Kenneth Payne, in 1988, there had already been casual talk that a new CHS might be needed. The long, narrow hallways had become crowded and raised security concerns. Classrooms lacked the space for added computers. The school board purchased temporary trailers to house additional classrooms. The building as a whole, pieced together by five major additions, was seen as outdated and unable to accommodate increasing technological and interdisciplinary instruction.

In August of 1991, Payne formed the Duneland Citizens Feasibility Study Committee, a 22-member body charged with studying the high school space needs in light of increasing elementary enrollments.

In June of the next year, CHS Principal Dirk Baer spoke out about the need for a new high school as part of a state-required school plan. Then, in September, prompted by a Chesterton Tribune editorial calling for public input, the school board hosted a public meeting just to hear citizen comments.

In November of 1992, the committee completed its work by recommending a new high school. That same month, the Duneland School Board agreed to purchase 92 acres at Meridian Road and 1100N for $550,000, though board members insisted they had not yet made up their minds about a new school.

In 1994, Payne and the school board hired a consultant, Nancy Smith Myers, and formed the "Duneland Key Communicator Group," a panel consisting of more than 60 people charged with identifying the high school's curriculum needs. The group finished its work in early 1995, calling for CHS to almost double in size, from 298,000 square feet to 533,000.

Then, on Dec. 8, 1995, a momentous vote was taken. The school board voted unanimously to build a new CHS at the Meridian Road site.

The first half of 1996 was a divisive one for the community. A relatively new state law at the time required that new school projects must be approved by a majority of property owners. Those for and against the new CHS split into two camps: B.E.S.T. (Build Excellence for the School of Tomorrow) and QUEST (Quality Using Educationally Sound Taxation).

The 30-day petition drive kicked off on April 11. Both sides hosted public meetings, ran newspaper ads and went door to door to plead their case.

Finally, on the morning of Friday, May 10, the BEST and QUEST camps turned in their petitions. It was immediately clear that the pro-building side had won, and the Porter County Auditor later confirmed the vote total: 5,469 certified property owners said yes to the new school, 3,019 said no.

In July of 1997, the school awarded construction bids totaling $65.8 million. The total bond issued was $70.9 million, secured at the favorable interest rate of 5.26 percent.

Over the objections of middle school teachers, the school board decided in 1999 to convert the old CHS into a new Chesterton Middle School for 7th and 8th grades, in turn freeing up space at the elementary and middle schools. On August 21, 2000, the new CHS, still partially incomplete, opened its doors to students for the first time.

And the rest will be history.  

 

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