An article from the September 1932 “School Board Journal” titled, “The Johnson City, Tennessee, Building Program,” spoke of an ambitious school enhancement project that began in the city on March 6, 1929.
The Johnson City Board of Education, comprised of C.E. Rogers (School Superintendent), W.B. Miller (President), H.M. Burleson (Secretary), Mrs. J.E. Crouch, H.C. Miller, J.H. Preas, Jr. and Mrs. J.A. Summers, inaugurated the enormous endeavor.
In the fall of 1928, Mr. Rogers presented a report to the Board outlining the status of Johnson City public schools with reference to the adequacy of buildings. It noted that the two oldest structures in the school system were Columbus Powell and Martha Wilder, both having been constructed more than 35 years prior.
A table in the report listed each school, the year it was built and the number of students above capacity (displayed as a minus if the building was under filled and a plus if overfilled). The white schools were Science Hill (1914, -13), Junior High (1922, -113), Columbus Powell (1890, +151), Keystone (1922, +134), Martha Wilder (1892, +107), North Side (1922, +133), Pine Grove (1922, 0), South Side (1917, +28) and West Side (1907, +191). The black schools were Langston (1895, -53), Douglas (1922, -69), Dunbar (1907, +64) and Roan Hill (no building, publicly owned).
Although Junior High had room for an additional 113 students, the article pointed out that beginning January 23, 1923, the enrollment was predicted to grow by more than 100 students bringing it to near capacity. Likewise, attendance at Science Hill was estimated to increase by 25 students. The school with the greatest excess of pupils was West Side at 191.
The legislature authorized a bond issue of $300,000 for Johnson City, which was subsequently approved by a substantial majority. The Board then requested the City Commission to authorize the expenditure of that amount for the following projects: addition to Science Hill - $31,250, addition to South Side - $31,350 and the building of new elementary schools for Columbus Powell - $74,000, Martha Wilder (later renamed Stratton) - $88,650 and West Side (later renamed Henry Johnson) - $74,750.
Three firms of local architects were selected to work with the consulting architect, William B. Ittner of St. Louis – D.R. Beeson, Messrs. Coile and Cardwell and C.G. Mitchell.
The Board of Education along with the Board of Mayor (W.J. Barton) and Commissioners (H.F. Anderson, W.O. Dyer, S.T. Moser and Frank Taylor) oversaw the building program with the latter board having legal authority in all matters of contract such as disbursement of funds.
The expansion at Science Hill High School on Roan Street consisted of three floors, the first being divided into a combination shop and drawing room, supply room and drying room. The second floor was divided into four classrooms. The third floor was devoted to the commercial department and consisted of rooms for instruction in shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, bank accounting and office practice.
The new addition at South Side was comprised of two floors, each having two classrooms. In addition, there was a room for a health clinic and a teachers’ restroom.
The new schools, Columbus Powell, Martha Wilder (Stratton) and West Side (Henry Johnson) buildings, were essentially identical as to interior plans. Each had eight classrooms: assembly room, library, clinic, office, teachers’ restroom, kitchen, projection room, janitor’s room and four student restrooms.
The new buildings were semi fireproof and were designed to allow for future expansion. The heating facilities were said to be the most modern available. Austral windows (upper sash opens outward like an awning and lower one opens inward like a hopper window for increased ventilation) were used in all three buildings as standard equipment.
The plans of West Side School (Henry Johnson) enabled expansion to a capacity of 840 students and provided facilities for an enriched elementary curriculum: kindergarten, 16 classrooms, library, auditorium and music room, nature-study room, handwork room and a combination auditorium and gymnasium equipped with a lunchroom kitchen. The administrative rooms included a principal’s office, health room and teachers’ and pupils’ restrooms.
The Board of Education and the public were overall pleased with the improvements made to Johnson City schools that provided modern and economic housing necessities ample for a period of several years. The school building program of 1929 served the city well for many years until student population demands again created a need for larger and more elaborate facilities.