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Column: Schooling readers on Worthington's classrooms

Editor’s note: The first portion of this historical account of Worthington’s schools appeared in the March 22 Daily Globe “A Sense of Community” edition. It will be continued on a future Reminiscing page.

WORTHINGTON — It seemed like it had not been a great long time. It was 20 years from the year the high school was completed until Castle School was full and the high school was full to overflowing with grade school students. Everyone recognized the second floor gymnasium in the west wing was a cry for help. Worthington needed a free-standing gymnasium/auditorium.

Worthington needed a much-improved facility for plays and concerts and lectures. So it was — 1930 — Worthington was asked to vote on a new grade school and on a high school gymnasium that incorporated an auditorium, the first facility of its kind the community had ever known. The auditorium was named Memorial Auditorium, designated as Worthington’s memorial to its lost sons of World War I and its veterans of World War I.

Typical of the district electorate, the vote was no problem. District 518 voters gave wide approval to the new grade school/auditorium proposal. The facilities were opened in 1931.

Breathe a sigh of relief at this point. Worthington High School became overcrowded and, perhaps, showed some corners had been cut in its construction. Wooden hallways and classroom floors dipped and slanted. No one challenged the statements that the building needed replacement. The gymnasium was also outdated by developments of that time. Schools across the state were opening new, state-of-art gyms. There also was a constant conflict in the scheduling of ball games, physical education events and public events — Worthington Concert Association offerings.

A new high school with a new gymnasium was pro-posed and easily approved for a location on Clary Street. The 1909 high school and its wings would come down. Ah, but — the auditorium also was to be razed. Seats were falling in disrepair. There were problems with wiring, with lighting. The high school no longer would be using it.

The Daily Globe spearheaded an editorial campaign and an outcry: “Save Memorial Auditorium!” There was not great opposition through the town. It was recognized there would be many hours and many days when the auditorium would not be used, but it was a valued public facility. Although the Save Memorial Auditorium effort roused significant support, a final decision became an 11th-hour decision. There were foes. The auditorium was saved by a board of education vote, and it was destined to become the community treasure it is today.

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Through decades, all across America, school boards admonished architects, “No frills.” So it came to be at Worthington. Unlike the great Castle School; unlike Memorial Auditorium and its companion, Central Elementary, which shared art deco trim; unlike West Elementary, with its bracelet of vividly-colored plastic squares ­— Worthington’s new high school rising on Clary Street where the Nobles County Fairgrounds had been located had/has no architectural distinction.

This is the high school most living Worthington natives remember best. It dates to 1957, and it has been judged a well-designed school building. Its gym, its classrooms, its lunch room, its offices, everything within it is judged typical/adequate. It has a small atrium, its single distinctive feature, but it is known for nothing unique. Residents might note to visitors as they took them for a drive, “That’s our high school,” but residents never take visitors for a drive for the purpose of showing the high school. It is only a building along the way.

E.A. Durbahn, Worthing-ton’s superintendent of schools through the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, went along with his board’s insistence on no frills for the high school, but he became a campaigner for the colorful blocks near the top of each outside wall that give distinction to the (onetime) West Elementary school on Winifred Street. “It’s like a row of blocks,” he said. “Kids love that. Kids love colored blocks. And it doesn’t cost us anything extra.” The board of education was persuaded.

West Elementary, the colorful blocks.

Central Elementary, its art deco.

West was built because The Grade School, on the old Castle School site, could no longer contain all the children who had come to populate District 518. West was built on Worthington’s west side because this was where the new population was locating. West was K-6, Central was K-6. This came to create a rivalry that troubled educators and a growing number of people through the community. Because it was in the new section of town, because it was the newer building, West’s students took to boasting, “West is Best!” And Central’s students wondered, “Why do we have the old school?”

The school board offered a solution worthy of King Solomon: All Worthington elementary students would begin their school careers at Central, all elementary students would move and end their elementary school days at West. Rivalry was erased.