Lynn Jenison

Memories of Central Junior High
When the halls of City Hall rang with students' voices

It had been many years since I had walked the halls of the building now utilized as the Ames City Hall.  When I visited recently, I was met with much that was familiar along with much that had changed.  The building served as Ames High School from 1938 to 1961 and then as Central Junior High School.  I attended Central there from the Fall of 1961 through the Spring of 1964.

Most of my first year was spent on the east side of Clark Avenue across from what is now City Hall in a building then known as old Central.  Seventh graders were somewhat segregated at that time with most of their classes held in a building long since torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Despite where our classes were held, we occasionally ventured across the street or  through the tunnel to participate in all-school assemblies.  I'm not sure if my fear of the tunnel sprang more from its dimly lit, damp atmosphere or from the threat of the older students that waited on the other side.  The tunnel connected the old and new buildings and I believe was originally constructed as part of the heating system.  Though not always open, it was offered as an alternative in inclement weather during the winter months.  I more often chose to cross the street outside, in spite of the elements.  Apparently, today the tunnel extends only from the Print Shop housed in the basement to the City Hall drop box on Clark and is closed off there.

I remember feeling quite grown up with the move to the real Central Junior High as an eighth grader.  My older siblings had attended Ames High School in this building and it still bore that name both above the door and on the floor in the lobby area.

I had spent time in the gymnasium watching my brothers as they participated in basketball.  That space remains little changed but for the addition of the exercise equipment and new locker facilities.  The sound of basketballs dribbled on the floor and excited kids yelling to one another is much the same, though it was much louder when the pulled out bleachers and balcony seats were filled with cheering fans for the high school games.  At the time I attended Central, the gymnasium was still being used by Ames High School, since the new gymnasium at 20th and Ridgewood was not completed until the mid-1960s.  As junior high students, our basketball games were held on Saturday mornings and didn't conflict with the high school schedule.

A look into the auditorium was also a trip down memory lane.  I had watched my sister perform in many band and vocal concerts here.  Though it appears much the same, many advancements in technology have been made with improved sound and lighting systems.  Memories of my performances in dance recitals and in various school choral programs came flooding back.  I wasn't able to go into the backstage area but just being in the tiled hallway outside triggered flashbacks of lining up in proper order and of adults, index finger to lips, quieting down the excited performers.

Some areas are vastly different than I remember.  In the southwest corner of the current lobby is an open area adjacent to the courtyard.  My rather fuzzy recollection marks that as the site of my 9th grade Algebra class with Mr. Wacker in the lead.  I seem to recall a small alcove just outside the door to this room, with stairs ascending up from the dreaded tunnel.  Perhaps I'm linking my fear of the tunnel with my fear of Algebra and this isn't correct.

The area that used to house the Principal's Office now has a sign on the door stating its use as the Fraud Investigation Interview Room - maybe not a totally discrepant use of the space!

The Council Chambers on the second floor once housed the Library for the school and I believe some of the old cabinetry was preserved during the remodeling of this room.  The Library was very different from school media centers of today.  Silence was mandatory and there were no computers, just lots of books and tables for study.  The emphasis on cooperative learning was not nearly as strong in the early '60s.   Occasionally, group projects were assigned but little work on those took place in the Library as it required too much conversation.

The old vocal music room located in the west hall adjacent to the auditorium in now the Employee Lunch Room for the City Hall.  It appears that use of the courtyard is encouraged now with tables and seating provided.  I don't recall ever being in the courtyard while in school there.  I would guess that doors to this area were probably locked.

One memory that will forever remain associated with the building for me is where I was when I heard that John Kennedy had been shot on November 22, 1963.  I was in English class when the teacher (I believe it was Mrs. Andrews) was called from the room.  After a brief flurry of conversation amongst the students during her absence, she reentered with the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  This was the first horrific incident that I had trying to make sense of it.

I personally feel that the Ames City Hall is a grand old building.  The renovation seems to have been carried out with sensitivity to the original design and respect for its history.  Of course, my feelings may be a bit colored by the memories I have of the days when the halls were crowded with students, eager to grow up and move on.