Class Dismissed

Buckle up, because you're about to read a whole lot of boohoo.

To some, the demolition of Charles Hay Elementary School in Englewood, Colorado means nearly nothing. To others, it signals a step forward for an evolving community. For me, it's a substantial loss. I attended that squat little red brick gem of school from Kindergarden to fifth grade. It was the setting for some of the most creative and joyous times of my life. I'm gratefully one of those fortunate people who had the gift of a happy childhood. I was also lucky to attend Englewood Public Schools during their halcyon days. Anymore, Englewood schools get the side-eye.


There she is. Look how cute. Look how cheery and structurally sound and asbestos-free. Not only is this school scheduled for demo, so are Englewood's other four elementary schools. I wrote an article for the fall issue of Modern In Denver that gives a cursory view of these schools' architectural context. They belong to an underrated era of postwar design. The schools exemplify many details that were the product of fervent research in postwar decades. Sure, they need new windows. Some A.V. updates, I'm certain. But essentially, there's nothing so wrong with them that the $97.5 million allotted to the district couldn't fix. For the story I interviewed Amy Ogata, a 19th and 20th century American and European architectural scholar at the University of Southern California. One of my favorite things she said was, "We are, unfortunately, infatuated with the new." 


Yes, much of my boohoo stems from nostalgia. But more than that, I'm disgusted by waste. I abhor throwing architectural babies out with the bathwater. It's historically damaging and environmentally detrimental, and it seems to be happening a lot in Colorado right now. When I attended the community update last spring, I asked if historical preservation was ever a design consideration. You'd have thought I dropped an F-bomb.

Unfortunately, within the confines of word count and the nature of a departmental piece, I couldn't delve as deeply into the history of the schools or their precursors and I'd have liked, but at least I got to say goodbye. We had to shift the perspective of the story for print, but I'll leave you with my original lead:

Onlookers gasped as cranes tore into Englewood’s 1954 high school building five years ago, but it wasn’t the marring of a community staple that caused cringes—the crumbling library was still full of books. One witness was Doug Cohn, the Director of Programming for the Englewood Historic Preservation Society. Englewood’s haste reminded him of when Flood Middle School was demolished. Cohn requested to search the building for historically significant documents but was denied access by the school district. It caused him to question the way Englewood transitions from its past. In the coming months, Englewood will raze its five elementary schools built between 1948 and 1956, effectively burying its innovative architectural legacy in school design. Charles Hay Elementary is one of them. Cohn remembers it well, as he was in its first graduating class. Since then, Englewood enrollment has experienced a mass exodus. Cohn suggests, “The school board is convinced the problem is because they have old buildings.”