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Judy Spooner: School-building boom years started in the '50s

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In keeping with the local history theme in recent columns, I'm writing about the "boom years" in the '50s and '60s in the South Washington County Schools district.

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I'm including Newport Elementary, built in 1928, because it underwent several additions and much remodeling during the boom years. In 1955, a lunchroom and kitchen were added as well as a library and office space.

By the late '50s, it was apparent that St. Paul Park grade and high school on Third Street in St. Paul Park was inadequate to keep up with suburban growth in Cottage Grove and Woodbury.

From 1958 to 1962, the district's school population increased by 350 to 400 students per year.

In 1961, a 20-by-40 foot rambler sold for about $12,000. New housing and a four-lane Highway 61 brought rapid growth to Cottage Grove with Woodbury just slightly behind.

In 1959, residents passed a bond issue to convert Oltman Elementary School to a junior high and add on to St. Paul Park High School. Pullman, Pine Hill, Grove and Woodbury elementary schools were also built and opened in 1961, the year husband Gary and I moved to Cottage Grove.

The elementary schools are very basic and constructed with concrete blocks and faced with brick. But they have a few things newer schools such as Cottage Grove, Grey Cloud, Liberty Ridge and Red Rock elementary schools don't have. The first classrooms are 10 square feet larger than those in newer schools and have more windows.

Hillside and Crestview elementary schools opened in 1964. Park High School opened in 1965. St. Paul Park High School became a junior high the same year. Royal Oaks Elementary School opened in 1967. Armstrong Elementary opened in January of 1969. Woodbury Junior High School opened in 1970.

In 1968, when 77 percent of Minnesota's 5-year-olds were in kindergarten, District 833 voters voted "no" on a bond issue to build kindergarten additions at elementary schools.

Residents in areas around Woodbury Elementary and Hillside Elementary, where we lived, passed it.

I worked hard with my neighbors to pass the bond issue, and less than a year later, after a petition presented to the school board by Cottage Grove Jaycees, a new bond issue passed with Woodbury and Hillside parents putting it over the top.

It might seem odd to you now, but in 1960, parent involvement in schools was restricted to field trips, teacher conferences and PTA.

On the first day of school, parents brought kindergarteners to school front doors, but did not go in.

The boom years, with the advent of kindergarten, more parent involvement, volunteers and classes for the community, led to more openness in education.

In addition to my recollections, I got information from "A History of District 833, Growing and Thriving in South Washington County" written by Susanna Meyer, former school board member, and published in 2002. Edited by Mary Elrod and Shirley Amland, it's available at Washington County branch libraries.

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Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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