Old school, new face
CANYON CREEK – If you had to use the john when the mercury had dipped below zero, a wooden privy buried deep in the snow was your only option. Enduring such a bitter cold trek was a fact of life if you went to school in the Little Red School House nestled a short piece up Canyon Creek, just north of Interstate 70. Pastoral and quaint, the Little Red Schoolhouse sits beneath the snow-shrouded mountains of the White River Plateau and the sparkling new homes above valley. As if defying the Rockies’ rapid conversion to a thrill-seeker’s haven, the one-room schoolhouse stands as a relic of Garfield County’s agrarian past. Violet Mooney knows all about life at the Little Red Schoolhouse. One of the schoolhouse’s caretakers since 1960, she and 49 other members of the Little Red Schoolhouse Club have maintained it and hosted many parties and dances there, keeping the vandals and ravages of time at bay. Built no later than 1907, the Little Red Schoolhouse was where local ranchers’ kids learned how to read, write and divide fractions until 1958, when Colorado’s school districts were reorganized and Roaring Fork School District Re-1 was created. The schoolhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Mooney, whose son went to school in the Little Red Schoolhouse, said that when classes were being held there, as many as 24 first- through eighth-graders met there each day. The teacher – there was only one – lived in a tiny room in the southwest corner of the building, she said. Mooney, 82, who lives just down the road, helped found the Little Red Schoolhouse Club in 1960 after vandals shot out all the old school’s windows.
“We’ve maintained it as a social hub,” Mooney said. In the ’50s, the local election board met there, and since then, the club has hosted monthly potlucks, dances and even weddings there. The Little Red Schoolhouse is a relic that will begin to crumble and fade if it’s not restored, a project club members and Steamboat Springs architect Jan Kaminski are hoping to begin next year. Despite Mooney and her fellow club members’ efforts to protect the schoolhouse from decay, the building’s foundation is already beginning to deteriorate, and nearly $217,000 of restoration work needs to be completed to restore the building. It’s a subject that rouses the passions in those who care for the schoolhouse. “When I’m gone, my spirit will rise up and smite anyone who doesn’t take care of it,” Mooney said.Kaminski, who specializes in historical restoration work mostly in Routt County and has been involved with the Little Red Schoolhouse for a decade, presented a three-phase restoration plan to the Re-1 school board in November. Re-1 owns the property and has no immediate plans to sell it, even though there’s no immediate use for it, said board member Bruce Wampler. “For the district, our general policy is to retain as many of the assets as we can,” Wampler said. “Here’s an asset of the district providing benefit to its immediate community.”Superintendent Fred Wall said Re-1 could one day put fixtures in the schoolhouse to make it resemble a school from the early 20th Century for a “hands-on” learning environment. It could also be used as a student retreat, he said.
Money to restore the Little Red Schoolhouse would likely come from the Colorado Historical Society’s State Historical Fund, which issues grants for historic preservation, Kaminski said. The catch, though, is that the Historical Society grants are matching grants, meaning that Re-1 has to put up about $60,000, either from its own budget, other grants or fundraising efforts, in order to win the approximately $217,000 needed to restore the schoolhouse. So far, Wall said, district officials have discussed funds being raised only by the Little Red Schoolhouse Club; however, district money could be used for the restoration if Re-1 officials find a viable use for the building. “At this time, there aren’t any district funds earmarked for this project,” Wall said. “The plan is to leave it as a community center for the people that live in the area and have taken care of the building. We don’t anticipate any uses by the district at this time.”The matching money wouldn’t have to be paid in a lump sum, Kaminski said. About $15,000 is needed for the first phase, which would total $57,254 and repair the schoolhouse’s foundation and exterior masonry. The first phase is slated for completion in 2006. The grant application is due in April, Kaminski said, adding that if Re-1 can find a grant for $15,000, “then they can use that and leverage that against the state historical fund.””They really don’t have a plan where they’re headed right now,” he said. “They just need to get some kind of plan together before (April) and try to come up with $15,000.”
Phase 2, which will restore the schoolhouse’s privies, walking bridge, chimney, roof and porch, will cost $83,101 and is slated for completion in 2007. The district will have to find $21,000 to complete Phase 2. Phase 3 will restore the schoolhouse’s exterior, doors, windows and interior, and will cost $76,470. Re-1 will have to find $19,000 for Phase 3, which is slated for completion in 2008. However great the cost, no decision has been made as to how to find money for the project. Nonetheless, Wampler said, holding on to the Little Red Schoolhouse is valuable because it serves the community, and it’s special to the volunteers in the Little Red Schoolhouse Club.”It’s really a project of love by them,” he said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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