A Stunning Historic High School That Alumni Can't Wait To Revisit

“It was like open heart surgery.”

Kevin Havens, executive vice president and director of design at Chicago-based firm Wight & Company, uses this analogy to describe what it was like to design and build an addition to a high school—without closing the school.

Joliet Central High School, located about 40 miles from Chicago in the town of Joliet, Illinois, is large. It extends two city blocks, and has four separate buildings about four stories tall. About 2,600 students roam its halls during the school year. Built in 1901 out of Joliet limestone by an Illinois native, the school is considered the heart of the town. The school grew over the years, with firms such as D.H. Burnham and Company in Chicago designing extensions in several separate periods from 1908 to 1931. For a while it was the largest high school in the country.

While the school’s future seemed secure, in October of 1981, the Joliet Township High School Board determined to close Joliet Central due to declining enrollment. Not everyone was thrilled with the decision. Students of Joliet Central and others in the community began a “Save Central” campaign. They organized demonstrations and a write-in campaign to the school board; the board stopped counting when they read the 10,000th write-in. Within a month, the new school board following the November election voted to keep open Central, saving it for future Joliet students.

Read the full National Trust for Historic Preservation article.