Saving their school

Browns Park alumni work to restore schoolhouse

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When Ellen Dana was a child, all of the major events in Browns Park happened at the Browns Park School.

The one-room schoolhouse was the polling place for area voters and served as a community center for ranchers from throughout the far northwest corner of Colorado.

School plays brought out everyone in the region, even families that didn't have children at the school.

"Anything that happened at the school was a community function," she said.

When the school closed in 1991, residents of Browns Park lost not only a school, but a community center.

Dana, who went to Browns Park School from 1957 to 1962, is one of a handful of former students working to restore the building.

The former students call themselves the "Browns Park School Alumni Association" and hope to turn the old schoolhouse into a community center for area residents.

"We would like to get it back to where the community can have it again," Dana said.

Mice and birds

Since the Moffat County School District voted to close the school after the 1990-91 school year, the building, at the intersection of Colorado Highway 318 and Moffat County Road 34 N., has sat empty.

The only inhabitants have been mice and birds.

The school opened in the 1940s, according to the Colo--rado Historical Society. From 1947 to 1991, from two to 14 students from kindergarten through eighth grade were enrolled.

The building is on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. The Moffat County School District owns the 1,000-square-foot building.

For reasons unknown to the alumni association or local officials, the school district never owned the property on which the schoolhouse sits.

Fix it or tear it down

In the building's condition, the bureau wants it torn down or repaired.

"It is a public health hazard if it's left the way it is," said Jerry Strahan, assistant field manager for the bureau's Little Snake Field Office in Craig.

Bird feces cover the floor and bathroom fixtures, and a sign outside warns against using dilapidated playground equipment.

The bureau would like another organization to take over the building and a small section of land around it, Strahan said.

The Moffat County School District isn't interested in having a school in Browns Park any time soon, said Mike Brinks, director of finance for the district.

But the district doesn't want to see the building torn down, either.

The district is willing to give the building to another organization, he said.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said the county would like to take over the building, especially if the alumni association is willing to maintain it.

Steele said he hopes to work out an agreement between the school district, the Bureau of Land Management and the county so the building isn't razed.

The alumni association is willing to clean up the building and maintain it, Dana said.

One of a kind education

For past and present residents of Browns Park, the school is a special place.

Fred Blevins, who attended Browns Park School from 1946 to 1955, can remember ice-skating during recess on the pond behind the school.

"I fell through that cotton picker once," Blevins said.

Dana remembers playing baseball in the school's parking lot and getting a one-of-a-kind education in the one-room schoolhouse.

When her family moved to Utah in the early 1960s, Dana's mother, Dorothy Simpson, said her children were well ahead of their classmates in Utah.

"They had to sit and wait for them to catch up," she said. "It was an education that kids don't get nowadays."

Dana said her education at the little school in Northwest Colorado was the best she had.

Not the same

Now, the parking lot is paved and there are three trailers on the property that belong to the Bureau of Land Management. The bureau uses the trailers for its black-footed ferret research program.

Seeing the changes to the school is sad, Dana said.

Although the school and the surrounding area aren't the same as they used to be, it would be far worse for the alumni if the building is torn down.

Also, the community needs a place that residents can meet, Dana said.

Lodore Hall is in Browns Park, but the facility doesn't have water or electricity. The schoolhouse does.

No matter what happens with an agreement between the county, BLM and the school district, alumni would start cleaning the building next week, Dana said.

"We've got our work cut out for us," she said.

If it means saving their school, the alumni won't mind the work.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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