Preservationists eye school

Some pushing for historic registration of Steamboat's old high school

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Several people working locally on historic preservation efforts want to see the old high school in downtown Steamboat Springs preserved, and they want to offer the Steamboat Springs School District help in doing so.

Arianthe Stettner, executive director of Historic Routt County, recently approached the School Board to offer help in nominating the old high school for historic registers.

Last week, Michele Desoer spoke to the Steamboat Springs City Council and expressed her hopes that the building be preserved. Desoer, an alternate member of the city's Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, also asked whether the city could help by offering to do a historic register nomination for free.

The School Board has not decided how to make needed upgrades to some of its buildings, including the old high school that is part of the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street.

School officials have said that a series of public meetings will be held in the coming months to get public input about the future of the district's buildings.

The school district recently demolished the Seventh Street Playhouse because it was considered unsafe and a fire risk.

Stettner said the old high school is an important building in the community.

"It's a community treasure, it's a significant building, it's a historic landmark, and it's part of our irreplaceable history," Stettner said. "It is so important to us that this building be formally designated that we will use our own resources and not impact the school budget."

Historic Routt County has offered to help the district prepare a historic nomination for free, which can take as many as 40 hours of work and cost thousands of dollars.

Stettner approached the School Board with the offer at its June meeting, at which time Superintendent Donna Howell said she thought it was not prudent to decide whether to pursue historic designation until the district conducts the community meetings.

Board member Michael Loo--mis agreed, saying he hoped to see the old high school preserved but that a historic designation could influence the minds of some residents before there was a public discussion.

Historic designations at the local, state and national levels are honorary, which means they do not restrict what is done with a building, Stettner said. But, the designations make the building eligible for preservation grants.

In regard to Desoer's request, the City Council cannot take action on an issue brought up during public comment, Council President Paul Strong said. Instead, city staff has been asked to look into the proposal, at which point they could bring such a request to the City Council, if it is appropriate.

"We just wanted to voice our concern about the building," Desoer said. Her hope is that the School Board will decide to preserve it.

Linda Kakela, director of intergovernmental services for the city, said the city has offered its services in helping to get grants for a historic structure assessment of the old high school.

The block of land that the school sits on, which is borderd by Seventh, Eighth, Pine and Aspen streets, is historic in its own right, historian Jayne Hill said. It was home to the city's first church, first library and first permanent school.

In the late 1800s, a wooden school was built, Hill said. After that school burned down, a brick school was built for elementary students, and in 1918, the old high school was built. That served as Steamboat's high school until 1969, when it became a junior high school. Now it is used for other purposes.

The old high school is one of the city's few "imposing" buildings, she said. At the time, such a sturdy, big structure brought an air of permanence.

"That makes a community seem permanent," Hill said, "like they were going to be here for years to come."

Hill said that even though she knows the building will not be cheap to save, "it has a very significant location, as well as a significant place in our history."

In general, public buildings, such as schools, can be important in telling the story of a place, historic preservation specialist Laureen Schaffer said.

"In any community, if you go look at the history and the events that shaped the community and people's lives, schools are up there," Schaffer said.

"If you're preserving buildings that tell a story of your place, a schoolhouse is a very important building to a community because it's where people learned -- it shaped people's lives."

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