Emily Griffith would likely give this assignment an A, even if it required a couple of extensions — and isn't a done deal yet. The legendary educator who founded the Opportunity School in Denver a century ago was a visionary, opening a groundbreaking program that was geared toward giving an education to anyone in the city — no matter where they were from, no matter their age, no matter their income. The free school started out in an abandoned Denver Public Schools building, but a decade later the Opportunity School moved into a brand-spanking new DPS facility at 1250 Welton Street, a structure with the word "Opportunity" over the entryway.
Today that building — and others added along the block as the Emily Griffith complex grew, and grew — is empty. The school, which was renamed after Emily Griffith retired, has moved into separate complexes: The Emily Griffith Technical College and Emily Griffith High School are based at 1860 Lincoln Street; many of the more technical classes are offered at a new facility on Osage Street. None use the word "Opportunity."
But the old building represents plenty of opportunity for the DPS, which is now selling the property, and for developers, who'd like to build on that prime patch of downtown real estate right by the Colorado Convention Center. In late 2012, DPS was ready to apply for a certificate of non-historic designation, which would have allowed the destruction of the complex, wiping the entire Emily Griffith slate clean.
But then Historic Denver stepped in, and over the past few years the nonprofit has been working with the district and city officials on options that would preserve Emily Griffith's legacy, if not every structure associated with it. Earlier this month, the group outlined the preferred option: allowing DPS to sell the block, but at the same time require that the circa 1926 school building and some contributing structures be saved, and incorporated into any design by the developer. At the same time, the developer could demolish the "non-contributing" buildings on the Glenarm Street side of the block (one of which is currently storing possessions of the homeless, which were collected in sweeps last month), and even build above some of the historic areas in the middle.
Yesterday, DPS filed an application for historic designation for much of the complex with Community Planning and Development. "Each step of the process leading to this historic designation application and design guidelines has been carefully considered," David Suppes, COO of DPS, wrote in an accompanying letter to the Landmark Preservation Commission. "Having the support of the historic community, as evidenced by Historic Denver being a co-applicant, is a testament to the importance that has been placed on this historic school property. The willingness of the civic, business and development communities to engage and provide input on how to balance the goals of the school district and the interests of the broader community has been invaluable."
Here's how the block would be divided under the application:
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The Landmark Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on the application at 1 p.m. April 19; after that, the application will move to Denver City Council's Neighborhood and Planning Committee for a public meeting on April 27. A public hearing before Denver City Council is scheduled for May 16.
Here are the DPS letter to the Landmark Preservation Commission, the historic designation application and addendums: