The Central School, completed on West Street in 1880, originally served as a school for all ages of Reno's children. The block of land between Fourth and Fifth Streets and West and Chestnut (now Arlington) Streets was purchased by the school district's trustees in March of 1879.
The school was designed by Sacramento architect A.A. Cook and built under the supervision of Reno contractor I.T. Benham. The public schoolhouse it replaced was a badly overcrowded wood frame structure on the northwest corner of West Front (First) Street and Sierra Street. Upon construction the new brick building held eight classrooms in addition to the superintendent's room and storage rooms. A basement, accessible only from the outside, held two large rooms lit by low windows, intended for play in inclement weather. With identical entrances on the east and west facades, it had a 95-foot-high tower topped by a weather vane. A later addition to the building doubled the number of classrooms, which were eventually subdivided, and "gloomy rooms with low ceilings" were carved out of the basement for the high school chemistry and physics classes. Twenty stoves were required to heat all the rooms.
In the final year of its operation, 1911, the school was attended by 220 high school students and six younger classes of about 40 students each, for a total student population of approximately 460. The building was already scheduled to be demolished and replaced in May of 1911 when a fire broke out in the school's chemistry lab. Although quickly extinguished, the fire drew renewed attention to the building's narrow corridors and exits. The new modern building that replaced it in 1912 became known as Reno High School until a new high school opened on Booth Street in 1951. At that point, the 1912 structure became Central Junior High.