Kelly High eases cramped quarters

Monday, August 13, 2007

BENTON, Mo. -- Kelly High School was more than just a building when it opened 50 years ago this month. It was a symbol of a new school district, created from small rural schools in Scott County where farming was the main industry.

"It was the first high school I know of in any part of Missouri that was built in a cornfield," said Roy Hayes, the first superintendent of the Kelly school system.

"It took a lot of work. We built a nice building," said the 89-year-old former superintendent who now lives in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

The high school opened Aug. 29, 1957. Even then, he recalled, some people thought it was too small.

A half-century later, the rural school district is finally getting a more spacious high school on its Highway 77 campus.

School officials, teachers and students will celebrate the opening of the new high school with a dedication ceremony at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the school.

Hayes is scheduled to speak at the ceremony. So are U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, a 1978 graduate of Kelly, and Dr. Jerry Waddle, another former superintendent of the school district.

The old high school will now house middle school students.

School officials said the old building had become overcrowded, barely able to handle an enrollment of 350 students.

"We had classrooms in closets," said high school principal Tom Hulshof, a cousin of the congressman. The narrow hallways made for traffic jams as students tried to make their way to class, he said. Students had to share lockers.

The new high school features a modern lobby, wide hallways and plenty of lockers. Each student will have his or her own locker when classes start Thursday.

The new Kelly High School has eliminated the need for three classroom trailers that housed seven elementary, middle and high school classes on the district's single campus. The district has more than 1,000 students in kindergarten through high school.

Hulshof said the new school is a big change for both students and teachers.

"I was talking with one of my teachers who has taught in a trailer the entire time he has been here," said Hulshof. Last week, the teacher moved into a new classroom.

Some students stopped by the new high school last week. They were thrilled with the building, he said. "To see their faces and see how excited they were, that is what makes it worthwhile," said Hulshof.

"Some of them may actually be looking forward to school starting," he said.

The new school cost $3.69 million. It includes a nearly 38,000-square-foot classroom and library building, an attached 8,900-square-foot multipurpose gym/cafeteria and a modern chemistry lab.

The old high school was smaller, but it cost considerably less. The price tag back then was $437,000.

Hayes said construction cost about $9.65 a square foot. "Now it is $90 to $100 a square foot," he estimated.

As part of the new high school project, the old high school library has been converted into a superintendent's office and board room. A small white house on the campus, which previously housed the administrative offices, has been sold and removed.

Superintendent Don Moore spent part of July in temporary quarters in the teachers' lounge while workmen put the finishing touches on the administrative offices.

When Hayes was superintendent, his office was in the high school.

Hayes said he liked having his office in the school. "I thought my job was to help the children," he said.

When it was built, the high school was the only school building on the Highway 77 site. It housed students in seventh through 12th gades.

The school was named for Benton High School graduate Thomas W. Kelly who died in combat in France in World War II.

The Kelly School District was organized in 1954 from three high schools including Benton High School and eight elementary schools in Benton, Blodgett, Commerce, Diehlstadt and Lusk Chapel.

Only months after it was organized, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of racial integration of public schools.

Hayes, who was initially superintendent of the Benton school system before the formation of the Kelly district, recalled that one superintendent suggested he shouldn't admit black students.

Hayes said he rejected such advice. "I told him, 'We are colorblind here.'"

When Kelly's first high school opened, the new district closed the schools at Commerce and Lusk Chapel. Elementary schools continued to operate at Benton and Blodgett.

The Blodgett school burned in April 1970. A year later, the Kelly Elementary School was opened next to the high school and the district began operating from a single campus.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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