Old school gets new life in Rio Blanco County
MEEKER — A 125-year-old schoolhouse near Meeker has had a makeover and is now available as an educational center and small events venue.
The Coal Creek School is a one-room schoolhouse with a privy – outhouse with girls and boys rooms, divided by coal storage — and a horse shed that was build in 1892.
It’s located about 6 miles east of Meeker and is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Colorado Register of Historic Properties and the Rio Blanco County Preservation Register.
About 10 years ago, a volunteer group of retired educators and Meeker-area residents started the Rural School Project to identify all the rural schools in Rio Blanco County
In 2013, the group began restoration of the Coal Creek School, which was mostly completed this year.
“The construction crews have been meticulous in restoring the school to its original appearance, which often doesn’t follow modern timelines,” said Rural School Project contact person Janet Clark. “The privy/coal shed has been restored, with names of students still visible on the walls.”
The project cost about $300,000, and the team continues to raise money to complete the restoration of the horse shed and belfry.
“Due to the intricate design and time, the craftsmen didn’t want to rush that process, but it will be added later. The horse shed is also in the process of being restored,” Clark said.
Rio Blanco County Historical Society and MM-Eight Construction held a celebration Sept. 23 to commemorate the school’s 125th birthday, as well as its restoration.
“It will be used to teach about the importance rural schools played in the development of Colorado,” Clark said. “We have already had a wedding at the school, and an art show featuring Mary Cunningham is planned for 3 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 17 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 18.”
The rectangular, 23-foot by 39-foot school was built on a stone foundation from locally quarried sandstone and wood. It did not have plumbing or electricity. With the exception of electricity, the restoration is in keeping with the original 1892 design.
“We did add electricity, so we could have evening events. A port-a-potty is on site, but plumbing is not available,” Clark said.
The school lacked swings or other playground equipment.
“It surprised us that there wasn’t evidence of a playground or playground equipment,” Clark said.
Instead — according to interviews conducted with former students during the process of listing the school with the national register — children would hunt rocks or arrowheads, jump rope, make snow angels, play marbles, tag and other group games at recess.
“Most rural schools are gone, but a few remain,” Clark said. “The Rural School Project team will maintain and operate the school.”
Volunteers have also learned they have something else to celebrate.
“We just found out the Coal Creek School Restoration Project will receive a Stephen H. Hart award from History Colorado for best historic preservation in our state,” Clark said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.