Impacts and Threats to School Properties

Demolition of Sheridan High School, Sheridan Co.
Demolition of Sheridan High School,
Sheridan Co.

Photo: Mary Humstone
Wyoming’s historic school buildings are threatened by a lack of participation in the decisions about school facilities; changes in enrollment resulting in school consolidations and closings; a general lack of awareness of preservation techniques; deferred maintenance of school buildings, and a lack of knowledge about the history and importance of schools. Following is an analysis of these impacts and threats.

  • Lack of community voice in school facilities decisions

    Traditionally, citizens of a community taxed themselves to raise money to build or repair a school, so all the residents had a stake in the school building, and most were at least aware of what was being proposed. With the change in Wyoming from a district-based to a state –based system of school construction funding, citizen input is no longer required in decisions about school facilities.
  • School consolidation and school closings

    School consolidation has been a controversial issue since the start of the 20th century, and proposals to close and/or consolidate schools still threaten small communities trying to preserve their school as the center of community life. These issues often pit parents and teachers against state administrators and school district officials. Closure of a school often marks the beginning of the end for small communities.
  • Lack of awareness and preservation experience

    Over the years, most Wyoming school buildings have been updated by remodeling and additions, and in the process the historic character of many of the state’s oldest schools has been destroyed. A school with a construction date of 1915, such as the Lucerne Elementary School in Hot Springs County, may actually look like a school from the 1970s, with only a small area of brick wall and a window or two indicating that a portion of the building existed almost 100 years ago. There is a lack of awareness of the Secretary of Interior's Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings and other sources that provide information on how to restore and adaptively reuse historic schools, while maintaining their historic character.

Lucerne Elementary School (1915), Hot Springs Co.
Lucerne Elementary School (1915),
Hot Springs Co.

Photo: Mary Humstone, 2007
Unlike some other states, Wyoming lacks figures on the comparative costs of renovation of schools versus new construction. Statements about the costs of renovation, the ability to insert new systems (especially new technology) into older buildings, and energy costs may be based on assumptions rather than actual investigation by a qualified preservation architect. Those who have not had direct experience with successful rehabilitation of older buildings often find it difficult to imagine that a rundown building with old-fashioned furnishings and fixtures can be renovated to serve the district’s educational goals as well or better than a brand new building. Concerns about materials such as asbestos and lead paint, or the size of classrooms, or the lack of electrical outlets, can appear overwhelming to those who are not aware of how these deficiencies can be remedied.
  • Deferred maintenance

    Most older school buildings in Wyoming suffer from deferred maintenance. Funding for maintenance has traditionally been problematic, since citizens are often less willing to tax themselves to pay for maintaining an existing building than for building a new building. Communities that take over old school buildings struggle to raise the money to do needed repairs, as well as pay for regular maintenance.
  • Lack of Historical Information

    Decisions about the fate of a school are often based on incomplete information about its history. It is difficult to piece together the history of individual rural school buildings in the state, or even in a single county. Schools are used for other functions, moved, and not referred to by specific names. Only a small percentage of older school buildings in Wyoming cities, towns and rural areas have been surveyed and evaluated for historic significance, making it difficult for citizens and officials alike to make informed decisions about which buildings are worth preserving.
Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources