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Save the School Buildings 

12-09-2015 17:35

Before I got married, I rented a pretty meager apartment in Denver`s most colorful neighborhood. A gritty, densely built area of turn-of-the-century houses and storefront shops, Capitol Hill is a rainbow mix of urban strivers, progressive stroller-and-Labrador families, and trendy couples, gay and straight. There`s nothing quite like it for a thou-sand miles around.

To my mind, Capitol Hill`s most striking landmark is Dora Moore School, which is actually two linked historic structures. One, a 111-year-old Roman-esque Revival building, sports wonderful terra-cotta ornamentation and four onion-domed corner towers. The other, built in 1909, is less effusive, but has nice patterned brickwork and wrought iron railings.

Of course Dora Moore boasts superlatives. The 1889 building was designed by Colorado`s first licensed architect, Robert S. Roeschlaub, who gave it 16-foot ceilings, generous wainscoting and trim, and a truly grand central stair-case. Home to Colorado`s first PTA-the "Mother`s Congress"- Dora Moore graduated Douglas Fairbanks, Mamie Eisenhower, and sundry Den-ver elected officials. For me, Dora Moore was the civic center where I voted, the neighborhood bench where I read the newspaper.

Recently, Keith Kirby, a teacher at Dora Moore for 26 years, told me the story of the school`s preservation. In 1975 Mr. Kirby and the Moore Student Council succeeded in having Dora Moore designated a local landmark, which has helped save the historic school from abandonment and demolition. Three years later parents and neighbors secured public funding to rehabilitate the buildings. In 1992 a gym was added and the two structures were joined with a "connector building" that provides a central entrance and handicapped accessibility. Dora Moore boasts its own computer network and is connected to the Internet. Soon the Denver Public Schools will begin a major exterior restoration, including paint removal, brick and stone consolidation, and gutter replacement.

In short, it took sustained community support over many years to preserve and update Dora Moore. Today it remains a neighborhood anchor and a fine educational facility where, Mr. Kirby says, students gain "a much greater sense of history because they`re living and learning in it." But Dora Moore`s happy outcome, unfortunately, is not typical. Nationally too many older and historic schools are unnecessarily threatened by abandonment and demolition, often because the buildings are deemed outmoded, rehabilitation too costly. On the other hand, many historic schools, like Dora Moore, continue to serve their students and neighborhoods well because parents, teachers, students, and neighbors have mobilized and creative thinking has won the day.

The National Trust is now in the planning stages of a national initiative to promote the continued use of older and historic school buildings for their original use-as schools. We are considering a range of strategies, including technical assistance, grass-roots out-reach, public policy research, and advocacy.

Perhaps most importantly, we are seeking to gather and share historic-school success stories. In our experience, there is no more powerful tool. If you have a success story to tell, please send a brief write-up or other descriptive information to Alison Hinchman at National Trust headquarters. She can be reached by e-mail at

Publication Date: March/April 2000

Author(s):Rob Nieweg