A Very Happy Hundredth Birthday for the Emily Griffith Opportunity School
The circa 1925-’26 Opportunity School building in the 1200 block of Welton Street.
Happy birthday to the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, which the legendary educator founded in Denver a hundred years ago today. Griffith, who'd gotten her start as a substitute teacher in Denver Public Schools, created a groundbreaking program open to people of all ages, from all economic and ethnic backgrounds. The school's motto: "So that all may learn."
This morning, a time capsule stashed at the school sixty years ago will be opened. (Spoiler alert: One of the items placed there by KRMA — now Rocky Mountain PBS, which encompasses DPS TV — is a study guide for the "Poco a Poco" Spanish-language series.) Mayor Michael Hancock and DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be among the luminaries during the big reveal at the Emily Griffith Campus — but that campus is no longer on the 1200 block of Welton, where the time capsule was tucked away in June 1956 in the cornerstone of a then-new building at 1261 Glenarm Street.
That property has been sold, in a deal that Emily Griffith herself would probably give an A (though she might dock some points for tardiness). The Denver Board of Education was originally supposed to vote on the deal at its August meeting, but the vote was postponed in just the latest in a long series of delays regarding the school.
The original Opportunity School opened in 1916 in a dilapidated downtown building that DPS had all but abandoned, but the program was doing so well that a new school was built at 1250 Welton Street in 1925-1926. It was the heart of a complex that grew to include several other buildings, including the one where the time capsule was placed in 1956, two decades after Griffith retired and the school she'd founded was given her name.
But by 2012, DPS had determined that the Emily Griffith complex had outlived its usefulness — except as a hot property in Denver's now-booming downtown. It became part of an ambitious consolidation process that started out as Project Lincoln, then became Operation Unite, designed to turn a fifty-year-old high-rise at 1860 Lincoln Street into space for DPS administration headquarters and three schools, including what's now Emily Griffith High School and the Emily Griffith Technical College. To help fund the plan, DPS was looking at a sale of the Emily Griffith property and had even applied for a certificate of non-historic designation that, if granted, would have allowed the whole thing to be wiped off the map.
That's when Historic Denver and other groups stepped in, DPS withdrew the non-historic application, and a long study session began, which resulted in some of the complex — including the ninety-year-old building with "Opportunity School" chiseled above the doorway — being named historic in April. Although the property could be sold, any developer that bought the block will have to follow guidelines to preserve that structure and other features on it.
Stonebridge Properties — which is based in Denver and has forty hotels in ten states — was willing to deal with those stipulations. And at a special meeting on September 1, the board approved the sale of the property for $26,100,000. That amount can go a long way toward funding DPS programs, including those started by Emily Griffith.
Which should make for a very happy hundredth-anniversary celebration at 1860 Lincoln, which is now known as the Emily Griffith campus.