Last Friday, more than 75 people gathered in celebration of the million-dollar, six-year renovation and restoration project of the Crawford School. Not long ago, the landmark building was considered for demolition. Thanks to a group of concerned citizens and unwavering support from the Town of Crawford and the community, the historic building now known as Crawford Town Hall has been given new life.
"This has been a project," said Crawford mayor Susie Steckel during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The former schoolhouse has been at the heart of the Crawford community for more than 100 years. Built in 1913 of ashlar cut stone quarried from area canyons, the two-story Crawford School replaced the original 1906 schoolhouse which was heavily damaged on Dec. 12, 1912, as the result of a chimney fire.
While the last graduation ceremony was in 1962, the building continued to serve the public. In 1982, the town purchased it for use as a town hall, community center, library and voter polling station. The Crawford School was placed on the State Register of Historic Properties in 1994.
When the Crawford Library moved out in the fall of 2007, the building was almost vacant. The town was struggling to afford the cost of upkeep, insurance, and operations typical for a building of its age, said Steckel, and considered demolishing it.
But the citizens, it turns out, have a lot of love for the old building, often described as "the heart and soul of the community."
"I would hear people when they came in to pay their water bills tell stories about this school," said Susan Hansen, a retired Delta County administrator and Crawford town clerk in the mid-1980s. During ribbon-cutting ceremonies she recalled how Gabby George, a member of the class of 1962, loved to talk about the old school. "He would regale people at the counter with stories about his antics in this building."
In early 2008 the town council held a public meeting to discuss its future, and heard overwhelming support for saving it, said Hansen. A steering committee that would become the Friends of Crawford Town Hall (FCTH) was formed. Throughout 2008, the committee, with the help of the USDA Rural Development Centers, held a series of public meetings.
What they heard was that the citizens wanted to keep the building, said Hansen, now president of the FCTH. Recognizing it was a monumental task, the committee made a promise not to start anything it couldn't finish, and the town told gave its blessing. Then mayor Jim Crook, who served as mayor for 24 years, pledged $150,000 toward the effort. The nonprofit FCTH was established in 2009. "We made a commitment not to start anything we couldn't finish," said Hansen. Support from the town jumpstarted the project, "and that's when we began all the fundraising efforts."
That year a gala attracted about 90 people and raised $14,000. But there was still a long way to go. Friday's celebration was "huge," said Hansen. "It's been a lot of years of wondering if it will really happen."
The project was divided into two phases. A State Historical Fund grant of $125,000, matched by town money, paid for Phase I -- exterior preservation. The state preservationist oversaw restoration of the exterior windows while retaining original woodwork and hardware, the bell tower got new shingles, and the exterior doorways were reconstructed.
A $400,000 Energy Impact Fund grant, along with $156,000 from the State Historical Fund, $50,000 from the Gates Family Foundation and $25,000 from the Boettcher Foundation paid for much of Phase II work on the interior. The Delta County Clerk's office applied for federal funds under the Help America Vote Act to bring the building in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, ensuring that it would remain a polling center.
Restoring the central hallway to its original condition was an important component of the project, because it is typical of the architectural four-room schoolhouses design of the time, said Hansen. The large community room is located on the north side of a hallway; on the south side are the commercial kitchen, storage area, and an historic classroom, where senior class photos dating from 1924 to 1962 are displayed. Many of the lighting fixtures are original, the original hardwood flooring was exposed, drop ceilings were removed, and electrical, pluming and mechanical work was updated.
Delta County also contributed some of its Great Outdoors Colorado funds for construction of new public restrooms. The infamous narrow, steep stairway leading down from the central hallway to the old bathrooms was removed.
Fundraising efforts by the FHTC and school alumni picnics raised an additional $125,000. Phase II of the project came in under budget. The remaining money and additional funds raised by the FCTH will allow for the final project -- completion of the commercial kitchen.
Town Hall, which occupies the lower level of the two-story building, also got a much-needed facelift.
"It's hard to express just how important it really is," said FCTH board member Shirley (Ayer) Cotten, a 1954 alumna and class treasurer who attended all 12 years at Crawford School. She recalled basketball games and school plays in the old gym, located in a separate building. The stage, also renovated, is all that remains of the original gym.
Cotten, whose 12 siblings also attended Crawford School, said she couldn't bear the thought of the school building being destroyed because it had so much potential. "When they talked about tearing this down I was just devastated and I said, 'I think they'll do it over my dead body.'"
During ribbon-cutting, Hansen was honored for her endless dedication to the project with a plaque. The town also named the council meeting room after her.
"We thought it wasn't going to happen, but then we got Susan Hansen. She was at the core of everything," said Steckel.
Hansen wrapped up the ribbon-cutting ceremony by recalling how just two years earlier the town celebrated the building's 100th anniversary. Said Hansen, "Let's all raise our glasses to another hundred years, hopefully, of this building."
Paonia Elementary School second grade teacher Jodi Simpson is passionate about pedagogy. She understands that the important things kids learn in school isn't accomplished through testing, but by experiencing life and all its wonders.