UW Community Enrichment Class Focuses on Saving Wyoming's Historic School Buildings

January 31, 2008
Sinclair Elementary School
About 30 historic school buildings in Wyoming -- including Sinclair Elementary School, built in 1936 -- face uncertain futures. A two-part class in February, sponsored by the University of Wyoming Community Enrichment Programs, will focus on the cultural significance of the buildings and techniques for preservation.

The Sheridan Middle School building has been demolished.

The old Hudson Elementary School is gone, too. So are the old high school buildings in Buffalo, Burns, Lander, Rock Springs and Upton.

That, says Mary Humstone, a research scientist in the University of Wyoming's American Studies program, is a shame.

"It's like a steamroller going through the state," says Humstone. "I can't even keep track of it anymore, but there's been 30 or 40 schools destroyed in the last three or four years. The sad thing is, it's not just a building that's been destroyed, it's our history."

To help preserve cultural heritage across the state, Humstone believes Wyoming citizens must band together to seek alternatives to razing historic school buildings that link generations and serve as cornerstones in their respective communities.

In February, Humstone will lead a two-part class titled "Saving Your School: The Community Value of Historic School Buildings." The cost is $30 per person for both sessions, or $20 per person for one session. To register for the class, call the UW Community Enrichment Programs office at (307) 766-6802 or go to the Web site at outreach.uwyo.edu/enrichment .

The class begins Saturday, Feb. 9, with a discussion facilitated by Humstone on the cultural significance of historic school buildings and techniques for preservation. The 9 a.m. discussion will be available statewide via video conference. For statewide discussion locations, call Heather Landers at (307) 766-6801 or e-mail cse_enrichment2@uwyo.edu.

The second part of the class, Saturday, Feb. 16, is a field day to visit historic schools in Laramie.

Through the class, Humstone hopes to rally support to save the few remaining historic school buildings in Wyoming, including Natrona County High School in Casper, built in 1928, and Elk Mountain Elementary School and Triumph High School in Cheyenne, both built in 1941.

All three school buildings -- along with about 30 others around the state built before 1955 -- face uncertain futures. The list of endangered schools also includes East Junior High School in Rock Springs, built in 1933, and Sinclair Elementary School, built in 1936.

As an alternative to demolition, Humstone urges local school districts to consider renovation, which, she says, is not always more expensive than new construction. Plus, she says, renovation reduces the environmental impact of producing new building materials and conserves landfill space.

Humstone cites a recent study by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Schools Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Historic Schools Task Force as proof that renovation is cost effective. That study shows the cost of renovation at $114 per square foot compared to $212 per square foot for new construction.

In Wyoming, however, Humstone says state appropriations from the School Facilities Commission that allow for generous funding for the construction of new schools, coupled with a lack of public awareness, has led to mass destruction of the state's historic school buildings.

In their place, Humstone says, are new buildings that "look like jails" and lack the architectural significance of older buildings.

In Pine Bluffs, for example, the senior prom is still held inside the old high school, now used as a community center, "because it's much nicer than the new high school," Humstone says with a smile.

"We need to spread the message that our historic school buildings can be adapted and renovated and still make excellent facilities," says Humstone. "We don't need to destroy history."

She adds, "I've had people say to me, ‘Not every building deserves to be saved because it's old.' I like to turn that around and say, ‘You're right, but not every building deserves to be torn down because it's old.'"

The two-part class is sponsored by UW Community Enrichment Programs.

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2008


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