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How supervisors saved Madera High

Madera County Historical Society

It was a proud group of Madera High students who posed in front of their school in 1915. The building had been constructed in 1904, in spite of attempts by powerful forces in Madera to prevent it.


A pall had settled over Madera in February 1904. The town’s dream of a brand new high school building had hit a snag. Factions in the community had been quarreling over the construction of the school, which would have taken the high school students out of their classes on the top floor of the old Westside School and put them in a beautiful, mission style edifice on L Street.

Disappointment probably ran so deeply because the people had been promised so much. The two-story building was to be built with brick from Madera and granite from Raymond-Knowles and was to be constructed following a mission motif.

Plans called for the first floor to have four classrooms, a principal’s office, the trustees’ room, ladies lounge, and a gentlemen’s lounge. The second floor would house an assembly room, 56 by 40 feet with a 10-foot stage and “ante rooms” on either side. The chemistry and physical science laboratories would also be located on the second floor.

Perhaps the most attractive part of the building plan was the interior, which was to be finished in Yellow Pine. Everybody knew that “Madera furnished the best yellow pine in the world.”

The portico, steps, and buttresses were to be of granite, and the building, when completed, was certain to be one of the most attractive looking school buildings in the state. At least that’s what the people thought they were going to get until the brouhaha of 1904 broke out.

W.C. Ring and his attorney F.A. Fee had started the ball by challenging the legality of some actions taken by the Board of Supervisors in relation to the newly created Madera Union High School District. Fee’s surface argument was that the supervisors were attempting to usurp some of the authority of the new MUHSD board of trustees. His motivation, however was dollars and cents. He knew that the new school was going to cost more than the budgeted amount of $22,500. After all, the accepted bid was $30,000. Fee knew that the Board of Supervisors would have to pick up the difference, and that meant an increase in local taxes.

When Fee failed to prevail in his first court case against the Madera Union High School District, he tried a second time, using a slightly altered complaint that the new Madera Union High School District Board did not have authority over its own district. He argued rather that its predecessor — the Madera High School Board — was the only authority until a school board election could be held. Judge Conley quashed this proposition out of hand.

Thus, with the legal challenges to the newly created school district put to rest, Madera High School was reopened after being closed during the court fights. Judge Conley had defanged Fee and Ring. Now the only object standing in the way of a new school was money and the new Madera Union High School Board developed a plan.

Recognizing that they could do nothing about the disparity between the contracted amount of $30,000 awarded to contractor D.J. Lindgren and the $22,500 budgeted by the old board for building a school, the Union High School trustees appointed William Hughes to form a committee to “talk turkey” with the Board of Supervisors.

When Hughes and his committee appeared before the Board on July 12 to ask for money, he outlined the dilemma the community was facing. He cited the following:

1) In 1903, the Madera High School District contracted with D.J. Lindgren for $30,000 to build a high school building.

2) The same board budgeted only $22,500 for the building.

3) Construction began in late 1903, the state passed a law creating Madera Union High School District.

4) A new high school board took over.

5) Fee filed his lawsuits and for a short time the high school was closed. 6) The Superior Court had established that the new MUHSD had authority over the building project.

7) The new board needed $17,839 from the supervisors to complete the building, furnish it, and begin operations.

The Board took Hughes’ request under advisement, and two days later, on a 3-2 vote, granted it. (Ellis, Fowler, and Teaford voted in the affirmative, and Sledge and Brown voted no) Shortly thereafter the supervisors issued a 35 cent levy to pay for their new commitment. With that, most everybody in town breathed a sigh of relief.

On Oct. 29, the new Madera Union High School District invited the public to see the new Madera High School. That Saturday evening was a glorious occasion. Judge G.E. Church of Fresno gave the main address, and everyone patted themselves on the back, as well they should have.

It is never an easy task to build a new school — not today, not yesterday, not ever. These early local supporters of education knew that everyone had an obligation to get that high school built — trustees, politicians, supervisors, and the community. As we pass by our schools today, it might be well to reflect on what those old timers had to face to educate their kids and what we have in common with them today.

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