Fifty years ago, Conway High School students returned to a new school. Built on Highway 60 on the outskirts of the city, the high school would have a unique design as well as a unique new curriculum.
The groundbreaking for this new $800,000 hexagonal pod-type high school complex was held August 1, 1967. It was designed by architect Dan F. Stowers of Little Rock and the contractor was General Construction of North Little Rock.
Attending the groundbreaking were Dr. Silas Snow, SCA president; H.L. Stanfill, Conway Superintendent; Carl Stuart, High School principal; and Conway Board of Education members, Chairman Ray C McNutt, John P. McConnell, Mrs. Sherbert C. Benton, Dr. Keller Lieblong and Cecil Bell. Many school patrons were also on hand for the event.
Originally, the school district did not own all the Hwy. 60 (now Prince Street) frontage it currently owns. In October 1967, the city paid $50,000 to Mr. and Mrs. J.E. McGuire for the purchase of seven additional acres of land that would give the school its larger front lawn.
Construction of the building was plagued with several issues during its year of construction. In October 1967, a dispute over the wage scale for laborers halted work. In April 1968, Fred Garrison, president of the contractor, General Construction, died, and his widow had to take over operation of the business.
There was also a problem with vandals and a guard had to be hired to watch over the site during afterhours. In May 1968, tools and building materials were stolen and the large walk-in vault door was damaged. The guard that was usually on duty was not there that weekend.
Superintendent Stanfill also passed away in the spring of 1968. Carl Stuart was moved up to that position and James Clark was named principal of the new school in July 1968.
The building was supposed to be completed by July 15 but in early August, Dan Stowers, the architect, appeared before the school board to give an explanation for the delays. An August 16 completion date was still assured and Stowers recommended the school take possession of each pod as it was finished.
In late August it was announced that high school students would not report for the first half-day of classes on Friday, August 30 because construction delays had held up the installation of furniture and equipment. Instead, high school students would report for their first day Tuesday, September 3, the day after Labor Day.
The original complex included seven “pods” Pods for English, language arts, science, math, social studies and administration surrounded the instructional materials center. Students pictured on opening day were described as “at a loss as to where their room was, who their teacher was and how to get to the various areas of the building.”
There was no cafeteria, so students had to be bussed back to the Junior High campus for lunch as well as some of their other classes. Two busses were put into service to accommodate the students going between the campuses.
The new CHS curriculum, which had been in the planning stages for two years, would emphasize individual instruction for each student with a course being divided into 12 units or packets. The school district received a federal grant to implement the packet system.
Goals for the plan were to make the students more self-reliant and better able to budget their time. Study halls were eliminated as the responsibility to learn was put on the student. Better students would not be permitted to complete more than the normal “package” in a year’s time but could be given “depth” assignments.
More buildings were later added to the high school complex. The Conway Area Career Center, providing vocational-technical classes for area high school students, was dedicated in 1973 with approximately 5,300 in attendance. Arkansas Education Commissioner Arch Ford, a longtime resident of Conway, gave the address.
Wampus Cat football was played at SCA’s Estes Stadium until 1975 when John McConnell Stadium was built. McConnell was the school board president during its planning and construction. A cafeteria and band room pod, as well as a gymnasium, were also added in the 1970s.
James Clark Auditorium was added in the 1990s as was a cafeteria and an English building. More recent additions included a new music building and a culinary arts/medical professions building. In 2012, the pods were removed to make way for the current three-story academic building, courtyard and cafeteria.
Cindy Beckman is a retired Conway High School history/economics teacher. She may be reached at email@example.com