After the Fall

The Evans school has seen a lot over the past century -- including a death last spring. But does this building have a future?

"I always thought it was fascinating, and Tracy loved old buildings. I think it made her feel close to her father," Jim says. "We both thought it was intriguing, the idea of just going in there for kicks. It was supposed to be fun.

"We'd passed it a bunch of times and always talked about it," he continues. "I can't remember whose idea it was to actually go in, because we were both game. It wasn't something that we planned on doing, but it was there, and it felt exciting, and we were both up for anything."

But they were also pretty drunk. They broke their flashlight trying to get in a first-floor window, and Jim couldn't pull himself up onto the same second-story ledge that Tracy had reached so easily. So he decided to go buy another flashlight. On his way back, he heard Tracy calling to him, then a screech. He looked up just in time to see her fall, flipping before she hit the ground. He ran over and saw the blood pooled in the corners of her mouth. He tried to revive her, called 911, did CPR again.

The Evans school in all its decay today. Tracy Rollert 
fell from the second-floor ledge at the right.
Anthony Camera
The Evans school in all its decay today. Tracy Rollert fell from the second-floor ledge at the right.
The Evans school in all its historic glory.
The Evans school in all its historic glory.

When the police arrived, they sent Tracy's body to the morgue. They took Jim to Denver City Jail, where he was held on suspicion of reckless endangerment and criminal trespass. A detective who'd responded to the call was looking at the case as a possible homicide.

"They kept telling me, 'Your girlfriend's dead, and you killed her,'" he remembers. "I didn't believe that she was dead; I thought about stories you hear about cops lying and making things up. I couldn't comprehend what was happening, and I thought they were trying to trick me."

Jim was placed on suicide watch. Despondent, angry and confused, he cussed out the detectives who interviewed him. An officer had found a small package of cocaine in his wallet, which added a drug-possession charge to his rapidly expanding rap sheet. Jim said it wasn't his, that he didn't know how it had gotten there. Nothing was clear except for the flashbulb memories of that night: how Tracy had called out to him as he'd returned with the flashlight -- "Don't forget my shoes," she'd said -- and then how limp and lifeless she'd been. Thinking about it made Jim want to die, too.

He was in jail for two days before he finally bonded out.

Patricia Holcomb spends a lot of her time thinking about how to save things. The head of Colorado Preservation Inc.'s Endangered Places program, she monitors sites around the state that are at risk of being lost -- to time, to development, to neglect, to history. Each year, the non-profit agency produces a list of Colorado's most endangered places, culled from nominations submitted by the public.

Holcomb has labored on behalf of bridges -- the Old Fruita Bridge in Mesa County, which made the list in 2002 -- and rural structures, like the Goodnight Barn in Pueblo, also listed in 2002. She's fought to save a grocery store -- Stranges in Mesa County, 2001 -- and an old wooden building in Routt County called the Rock Creek Stage Stop, listed in 2000.

"Whenever I get into a project, there's a spectrum," Holcomb says. "At one end you've got an endangered site, at the other end a site that is safe. Getting from point A to Z is a tremendous process. Part of the point is to bring people out of the woodwork, to see if there are people who might be able to help. And that can happen. Last year, someone from California came in and ensured that someone bought a place -- a hotel down in La Junta. And it may bring forth people who have history or can bring forth photographs. Those kinds of things are important when you're trying to do preservation work."

Since introducing the endangered-places list in 1998, Colorado Preservation Inc. has logged six successful saves. Twenty-nine more sites are considered to be in a "progress" mode. Two have been lost: Currigan Exhibition Hall and the Christian Science Church in Victor. Seven are on "alert" status, including the Evans school, which was listed in 2000. "There have been some difficulties with getting things moving along," Holcomb says of the site.

The Evans school has made other lists, too. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, after a University of Colorado architecture student submitted an application on its behalf. And in December 2001, it was designated as a historic structure by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. The dual designations brought some protections against demolition. Although being added to the Denver list meant that any renovation plans would have to be approved by the commission, it also provided tax-reduction opportunities for the owners and allowed them to apply for State Historical Fund grants. In 2002, Historic Denver helped the Ebers gain a state grant for a complete architectural assessment of the property, the first step toward an earnest renovation effort.

"We fell in love with the building," says Nan Anderson of Andrews & Anderson Architects, the Golden firm hired to perform the assessment. An intern with the architectural firm was so enamored with the Evans school that he built a chip-board model of it; Anderson and her colleagues use the model to puzzle out possible plans for the structure and to try to inspire the owners to take some action. "There are few buildings that we've worked on that have captured us in such a way," she adds. "It just has some wonderful detail, unique and institutional designs on its interior. The handrails, the mosaic floors. For a school, I would consider it high-style. It has a much higher level of detail than what you see in most historic schools."

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