CHEYENNE — Natrona County High School is one of 61 schools on the Alliance for Historical Wyoming’s endangered schools list.
The school, built in 1924 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is scheduled for renovation, not demolition.
But it still will be kept on the Alliance for Historical Wyoming “watch” list because money isn’t secured yet and the plans are not complete, said Mary Humstone, the alliance’s vice president.
“It looks very promising,” she said.
Less fortunate is South Elementary School in Lander. It will be demolished.
Sonjia Weinstein is a member of the Fremont County Historical Commission, which organized a “Save South Elementary” movement last year.
In a two-week period, her group collected the signatures of 450 residents who want to save the school.
But the opposition didn’t sway the school board, Weinstein said.
“At this point I don’t really think there is much chance of saving it,” she said.
The Fremont County School District 1 Board voted in December, she said, to demolish the school.
The initial decision was made in 2005 partly as the result of an engineer’s report that found structural faults with the facility.
Weinstein said the school board should have evaluated the building again, given its rare and unique architectural features and its historical value.
The Lander school board looked at the architectural features of the school before Weinstein’s group raised the issue, board chairman John Schumacher said.
Those features will be preserved for incorporation into the new school, he said Friday.
“The building has serious safety and health issues and the school board has known about those for a number of years,” he said.
The board, he said, held a public hearing and heard comments both from people who wanted to keep the building and those who were concerned about the safety issues.
The one-story South Elementary in Lander is an Art Deco-style building constructed in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration program provided through President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal.
The building has unusual WPA designs in brick, including a bas relief of two people sitting and reading. Stone ram heads are located at the tops of columns on the school’s front elevation, and the building features many other distinctive decorative elements, according to the AHW report.
After the old building is razed, a new elementary school is to be built on the same site.
The AHW publishes the endangered list to make people aware that their historical schools may be torn down.
Humstone said the organization looked at schools built before 1960 in compiling the list.
Not an official list
“There isn’t any official list,” Humstone said. “This is basically what we’ve been able to figure out through various research.”
A lot of the schools that fit into the historical category in Wyoming were built during a major construction boom after World War II.
The oldest school on the list is the Fort Washakie School built in 1879 and listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Wyoming’s historic schools have been nominated for the “11 Most Endangered Places” program, sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
About 40 Wyoming schools built before 1960 have been demolished, including some that may have qualified for the national register, according to the AHW.
The Lander school is not listed on the national register, although 14 schools on the list of 61 have that designation.
Most of the of the schools on the endangered list are still being used as schools, although some have been converted for other historical uses, such as museums.
In Cheyenne, an effort has been made to rehabilitate the 1921-era Park Addition school, which is on the national register.
The Cheyenne Safe House received a grant to remodel the school for a safe house but then decided to move to a different location, leaving the school’s future uncertain, Humstone said.
The Park Addition school is one of seven Cheyenne schools on the endangered list. The others in Cheyenne are the old Triumph High School, built in 1940; Storey Gymnasium, built in 1950, and Deming/Miller, Cole, Hebard and Rossman elementary schools.
A new Triumph alternate high school has been built. The old school was sold to a local architect possibly for residential development, Laramie County School District 1 officials said Friday.
Although Storey Gymnasium is also on the list, the district plans to continue using it and recently remodeled a conference room in the building.
Rossman Elementary has been torn down, said Dave Bartlett, assistant superintendent of support operations for the Cheyenne school district. The other schools on the endangered roster are far down on the Wyoming School Facilities Commission’s school “needs list.”
The key is whether the cost of renovation is more than the cost of a new building, Bartlett said.
Only four Casper schools are on the endangered list in addition to Natrona County High. The list includes Roosevelt High School, built in 1922 and on the national register; Westwood and Fort Caspar elementary schools and Dean Morgan Junior High School.
Dennis Bay, executive director for facilities and technology for Natrona County School District 1, said the first step if the district finds it can no longer use a school is to offer it for sale.
If there are no bids, then the district starts plans for demolition.
“The state does not want us to have empty buildings,” Bay said.
He noted that in 2003, the district advertised the Garfield and Willard schools for sale and a Baptist church bought the buildings.
Crook County officials, meanwhile, are trying to get money to convert the Sundance School — “Old Stoney” — into a museum. The school was built in 1923 and is on the national register.
Prejudice for the new
The alliance blames the loss of old schools on prejudice toward new facilities and a lack of understanding about how historic structures can be rehabilitated for 21st century educational needs.
The only statewide nonprofit dedicated to preserving the state’s unique historic and cultural resources, the alliance has organized letter writing campaigns and has obtained grants to hire preservation architects to evaluate historic buildings as well as inform communities about the benefits of reusing buildings.
Those efforts were successful in Natrona County, according to a report published on the AHW website.
Many of the schools on the endangered list, like South Elementary in Lander, never have been evaluated for their historical value, Humstone said. To encourage more school evaluations for the national register, the state Historical Preservation Office in Cheyenne completed a historical context for schools — the background information needed and a nomination form.
The alliance will present a program on historical context during a Preservation Wyoming conference April 29-30 in Casper.
The event will include a tour of Natrona County High.