The first school in Elmhurst, Elmhurst Grade School, was constructed in 1888. A two-year high school was added in 1892. In 1905 the grade school’s name was changed to Hawthorne School. The secondary school was expanded to a four-year program and named Elmhurst High School which was housed on the top floor of the same building at 145 Arthur in Elmhurst.
In 1917 the entire school was destroyed by fire forcing the relocation to a nearby church. In 1918, a new community township high school (District 88) was created and plans were made to build a new school.
The new York Community High School opened its doors in September 1920 with an enrollment of 153 students and nine teachers. Over the next 50 years, sixteen separate additions were added to the building. The most noteworthy: the tower building in 1926, the auditorium building in 1929, and in 1956 a wing was added to the front of the school masking the tower building façade giving the school a more “modern” architectural look. In 1989 the Aquatic Center was added.
The enrollment at York High School has undergone dramatic changes since its opening in 1919 with 153 students, peaking during the 1950s to more than 3,800 and again during the 1970s. In 1950, the Board of Education appointed a Citizens Advisory Committee to study the growing enrollment situation. The study report recommended that to meet immediate needs, the district rehabilitate and enlarge York to accommodate 2,500 students. To meet “future needs” the report suggested several alternatives include building a second complete high school and to establish a community unit school district. The completion of Willowbrook High School (District 88) reduced the size of York by almost one-half by the early 1960s. However, continuing enrollment growth into the early 1970s ultimately led to the consolidation of York (District 88) with elementary districts 46 and 3 in 1974. The consolidation placed York into an administrative structure for a unit district consisting of 19 schools with a K-12 emphasis on organization and curriculum.
The 1974 District 205 enrollment of 10,677 steadily decreased reaching a low of 5,742 in 1989. To accommodate the declining student population, the district closed seven elementary schools between 1977 and 1983; and in 1992 the District estimated the net savings from these closings was over $16 million. The following schools were closed: Eldridge (closed 1977) was sold to Ray Graham Association; Washington (closed 1978) was razed and property sold to Elmhurst Park District (EPD); Yorkfield (closed 1978) was used as a district warehouse until 2004 when the property was sold; Roosevelt (closed 1979) was razed and sold to EPD; Crestview (closed 1979) was sold to Korean Presbyterian Church; Madison (closed in 1983) was partially leased to EPD for nine years and was used by the District as Administrative Offices along with the district’s pre-K program for children with special needs; Cornille (closed in 1983) was sold to MacCormac Jr. College and in 2004 was sold to the EPD and opened as the Wagner Community Center. In 2009, the District Administrative Offices moved to 162 S. York freeing up the entire space at Madison for the pre-K early childhood program. The District Center on York Street now houses all administrative departments, the Board of Education meeting room as well as meeting rooms for staff and outside community rental.
The history of referenda passage or failure since 1974 is mixed. In 1974 high school repair and remodeling was approved; in 1977 an increase in the education and building funds was not approved; in 1978 an educational fund rate increase passed; in 1983 an advisory vote to build the Aquatic Center failed by 117 votes (the Board subsequently decided to build the pool); in 1984 an advisory vote to retain three junior high school passed overwhelmingly; in 1987 a referendum to increase taxes to maintain the three junior highs passed; in 1993 a building bond referendum for additions to elementary buildings failed; in 1995 a building bond referendum for additions to all schools, repair and rehab to all school, and technology failed; in 2000 a building bond referendum to rebuild and renovate York High School and elementary classroom additions and ADA work passed.
The dedication of the new York Community High School on March 14, 2004 marked the culmination of a four-year journey that began on March 21, 2000. On that date, the community overwhelmingly approved a bond referendum to build/renovate York Community High School, to make all district buildings accessible to persons with disabilities, and to add 16 elementary classrooms. By December 2003, the York project was complete (nearly six months ahead of schedule and on budget) when the final phase, a 59,000-square-foot field house, was opened. The three years of construction that took place, for the most part, while students and staff were attending school, included the demolition and subsequent rebuilding of eighty percent of the school and the renovation of the remaining sections. Since its completion early in 2004, the new high school has become a focal point of activity for the district and community. Its reputation for academic excellence, improving standardized test scores, state of the art technology, and beautiful classic collegiate gothic architecture have become a point of pride throughout the community.
On March 21, 2006 the community overwhelmingly approved two referenda questions—the first to add additions at all elementary and middle schools including a complete renovation for Hawthorne School, and the second to increase the tax rate by $.30. The tax rate increase has helped to provide additional staff needed to keep class sizes at appropriate levels and to restore cuts in staff development, supplies, and library books. As of Spring 2007, additions at ten school sites and a massive addition and renovation at Hawthorne Elementary School will be underway. Much-needed additional classrooms will be completed at most sites for the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. The Hawthorne School project is due for completion by fall of 2008.
In October 2006, two of District 205’s elementary schools (Edison and Jackson) were included in Chicago Magazine’s list of 140 of “The Best Elementary Schools.”
Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205’s reputation for excellence combined with a thriving local economy supported by a successful Chamber of Commerce Industry, a new public library ranked sixth in the nation, an award winning park district, a distinguished fine art museum, an outstanding community symphony orchestra, and a thriving downtown shopping and dining district have made Elmhurst a magnet for real estate developers capitalizing on the “close in” west suburban location with easy access to all major highways and a 20-minute commuter train ride to the Chicago loop. All evidenced by Elmhurst’s selection in 2003 as Chicago Magazine’s #1 suburban community in its size category.