Starting in 1871, high school students from Oak Park attended classes in an elementary school. The first class, which contained only three people, graduated in 1877. As early as 1875, there was discussion about constructing a high school in Oak Park.
In June 1889, the school board announced that a site on Lake Street between Euclid and East Avenues had been selected for the new high school. Construction began in the spring of 1890. The school was designed by the firm of Thomas & Rapp, and built for an initial cost of the school was listed at US$40,000. The school, Oak Park-Ridgeland High School, was opened for public inspection on the afternoon of 1 January 1892.
The building was designed to be used for kindergarten and grades 5–12. Among the features of the building were a state-of-the-art ventilation system that changed the air in the entire building once each six minutes. The basement, which would hold industrial arts shops, and the third floor, which would hold the gymnasium, science labs, and rooms for cooking and sewing rooms.
The 15 member graduating class of 1894, grouped according to course work in “Classical”, “Latin”, or “Modern language” received a graduation address from John M. Coulter, then serving as president of Lake Forest University.
In 1899, the tuition charged to residents of River Forest and Maywood was raised, prompting the students from those towns to move their students to the recently completed Austin High School in Chicago.