UW American Studies Program Seeks Ideas for Old Pine Bluffs High School Building

April 2, 2008
School building
Pine Bluffs High School

Wanted: Your ideas for the old Pine Bluffs High School building.

The University of Wyoming American Studies program will host a design workshop Saturday, May 17, to develop a plan for preservation and reuse for the historic building, which has stood as a landmark in eastern Laramie County for nearly 80 years.

The workshop, free and open to the public, will be from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. inside the old school building at 607 Elm St. Refreshments and lunch will be served.

"I think a lot of people in the community think it's just this big, old building. But outsiders come into the town and they go, ‘Wow!'" says Mary Humstone, a research scientist in UW's American Studies Program. "It's a really nice building and it's really the only architecturally significant building in the community. We want to draw attention to the fact that it is a well-designed, handsome building that has a lot of potential uses."

Laramie County Community College (LCCC) officials can vouch for the building's usefulness.

Since 1998, LCCC has rented space inside the old school building from the Pine Bluffs Heritage Society, a non-profit organization that leases the building from Laramie County School District 2 (LCSD2).

In Pine Bluffs, LCCC offers credit and non-credit classes in what LCCC President Darrel L. Hammon describes as a "normal" college setting. The Cheyenne-based community college rents three classrooms, a conference room, office space and a small lounge in the building.

"This is a workable and very useful building," says Sherry Acheson, LCCC's campus coordinator. "The life of this building is not over."

Adds Hammon, "Our job as a county community college is to serve the entire county, and this building has allowed us to put our services in the eastern part of the county and to provide students with an opportunity to go to a site near their homes to capture an education they might not normally get."

Laramie County Head Start and LCSD2 also rent space in the 23,000-square-foot building, which includes 11 classrooms, a distinctive domed gymnasium and a small theater. But, Humstone says, the heritage society needs more tenants to offset rising operational costs.

The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, would be ideal for community, church and school groups or clubs, recreation programs and after-school functions, says Humstone.

"For most of the past 10 years, through these leases, the Pine Bluffs Heritage Society has been able to maintain the building and pay the bills," says Humstone. "But since last year, when the gas prices started climbing, they've really had a hard time making the utility payments and they've realized they need some new tenants in order to make it work now."

The May 17 workshop will be facilitated by Jim Rose, director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, and led by Kurt Dubbe, a preservation architect from Jackson.

Members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private, non-profit membership organization that works to save historic places and revitalize America's communities, will also attend the workshop.

"The goal is to get all the people who have an interest in this building and outside experts who can lend their experience to a project like this one in the same room to discuss how we can make this building a useful, contributing part of the community," says Humstone. "At the end of the day, we'll have built community support to save this school and developed conceptual plans on how to adaptively use the building as a community resource."

The UW American Studies program received a $12,400 grant last year from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund to explore potential uses for the old Pine Bluffs High School, constructed in 1929.

Humstone hopes to secure additional funding through the Wyoming Business Council's Community Facilities Grant and Loan Program, which assists communities with funding to enhance or preserve school buildings.

For more information or to register for the workshop, call Humstone at (307) 766-4929 or e-mail humstone@uwyo.edu, or call Jack Hockersmith, president of the Pine Bluffs Heritage Society, at (307) 245-3554 or e-mail hockerjock@aol.com.

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