COOLIDGE -- Kenilworth School is one of the oldest buildings in Coolidge. The property is also one of the oldest schools in Arizona.
Built in 1912 — more than a decade before Coolidge was founded — Kenilworth served as an elementary school overseen by its own school district. The origins of the district date back to 1895, with the earliest version of the school built on property donated to the district by Len Graham.
Several years later, the initial structure was torn down to enable the development of a second, larger facility on the same property. That structure was later demolished to make way for the third and final Kenilworth School in 1912, the year Arizona became a state.
Following a consolidation effort that took place just under 60 years after its construction, however, the property is now one of several owned by the Coolidge Unified School District.
Though it was eventually rotated out of being an elementary school, according to Dan Reeder, a board member with Coolidge Historical Museum, over the years the school was used off and on as a stand-in elementary school.
Use of the school tapered off after it fell into a state of disrepair. However, in 2001, CUSD was granted $1 million in state funding for deficiency corrections to the school.
While a number of improvements were made to the structure, such as restorations to the large windows found throughout the facility, the updates left many of the historical elements of the building intact, including the original flooring and doors.
But despite its age, the school has not found a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kenilworth was later transformed into an off-site suspension center and, eventually, closed in 2004. Three years later the site was leased to the Coolidge-based church Calvary Chapel.
The church rented the facility and worked to maintain the building’s historical integrity until earlier this year, when a decision was made to vacate the property as a result of the pandemic.
But Kenilworth is not the only historical building under the district’s domain. For years, the structure found at 450 N. Arizona Blvd. served as a junior high headed by Principal Hortense Lulabelle McCray.
The building was later named after McCray as a tribute to her service as head of the school.
Superintendent Charie Wallace attended the school as a junior high student and remembers living through some significant moments right on the very campus where she now works.
She specifically recalls where she was when she was told that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated — standing in the courtyard just outside the room that today serves as her office.
She also remembers performing in a Christmas program as a fourth grader on the stage at the school’s auditorium. Years later, that stage would be transformed into the dais for the district’s Governing Board meetings.
Jim Roth, Wallace’s father and the longest serving superintendent in CUSD history, moved his family to Coolidge to accept a position as a teacher on the McCray campus in the 1960s.
At the time, Wallace said, McCray was his boss. She remained principal of the school even after Roth became the superintendent years later.
During his career as superintendent, Roth oversaw the consolidation of the Kenilworth Elementary School District in 1971 — bringing the historical Kenilworth under the Coolidge district’s supervision.
Wallace describes working in a building with that type of personal significance as a “privilege.”
“I’m just really thrilled and pleased that my predecessor and the governing board at that time preserved this and made it such a beautiful building,” she said.
From the time it was constructed in 1936 up until 2011, McCray served varying purposes. The structure was actually constructed to be a high school, funded with the sale of $60,000 in voter approved bonds.
The school wasn’t always housed in the expansive building. Established in 1935, the Coolidge Union High School operated out of the Coolidge Woman’s Club and Community Church buildings for the first term in the 1935-36 term.
The 100 enrolled students were moved to the new facility, which included a lighted turfed football field and (then) state-of-the-art baseball diamond on Arizona Boulevard in the fall semester.
The first graduating CUHS class was celebrated in 1939. In the 1960s, the building was transformed into a junior high following the construction of Coolidge High School on Northern Avenue.
Alyssa Garrett, director of business services, remembers attending school in the McCray building for junior high. She said she associates the former school with some wonderful memories.
“It definitely brings back fun memories,” Garrett said. “The office that I currently work in used to be the attendance office and I used to be a TA (teaching assistant) in here. It’s the same exact office, it just used to have a little attendance window here in the side.”
In 2009, the school district began examining the possibility of turning the old school into the district office amid what CUSD administrators at the time termed as “concerns” that the ninth grade class was isolated from the rest of the high school.
Records from the Coolidge Examiner show that leading up to that point, the building had been used as the location of the Ninth Grade Academy. Prior to that, the district office had been housed along Central Avenue and at North School, 351 N. Arizona Blvd.
Renovations on the McCray building went far to retain many historical elements, including utilizing the original concrete tile flooring.
But other portions of the building were altered to make them more functional as an office space.
Such was the case with the Betty Landy Gym, located on the northern end of the building. During renovations, the hardwood floor in the gym was covered by carpeting, but Garrett says that you can still hear the wood floor beneath the carpeting when you enter the former gym.
The wooden sign at the entrance reminding students that food or drink are not permitted still hangs above the door even though the area was transformed into a resource center for teachers when the building was reopened as the district office in 2011. PW