Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Emily Griffith school up for sale, but name lives on at Emily Griffith Campus

The Emily Griffith Opportunity School could soon be history -- literally, since the circa 1926 school building at 1250 Welton Street has been recommended for landmark status. But the name of this pioneering educator will live on. This morning, Denver Public Schools will announce the name of its ambitious project (previously called "Project Lincoln," then "Operation Unite") at 1860 Lincoln Street, a fifty-year-old highrise that's being converted into space for three schools and DPS administration headquarters. And that name? The Emily Griffith Campus.

Emily Griffith came to Denver over a century ago and worked as a subsitute teacher before she founded the "Opportunity School" in 1916 in an abandoned DPS building. It was a place where everyone could get a free education, with citizenship courses, evening classes and training in a variety of trades. The school's motto was "Public Opportunity -- For All Who Wish to Learn," and when it moved into a brand-new home in the 1200 block of Welton Street in 1926, the word "opportunity" was inscribed above the door.

In 2012, as part of a complex real estate deal that called for many of the Emily Griffith programs to move into 1860 Lincoln and their current home sold, DPS applied for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status for the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. But after complaints from historians and civic leaders, Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced in late December 2012 that DPS had withdrawn that application and would participate in a process with preservation and community stakeholders to seek a new purpose for the buildings. And at the end of 2013, the committee recommended that DPS move forward with a historic designation for the buildings located along the western side of the campus on Welton Street. If those buildings are granted local landmark status, it would mean that anyone who wants to buy the property -- and there are certainly developers looking at it, since it's a prime piece of real estate right by the Colorado Convention Center -- would have to preserve the landmarked buildings.

In the meantime, plans are going forward to move what's now known as Emily Griffith High School and Emily Griffith Technical College into 1860 Lincoln. (The Opportunity School was named for its founder after Emily Griffith retired in 1933.) Some of the technical programs, such as welding, will move into a leased building at 12th and Osage streets. According to DPS, the school has served 1.6 million students since it was founded.

And now, Emily Griffith's name and mission will live on at the Emily Griffith Campus. It will be the first DPS facility downtown to serve all ages, with three schools: Downtown Denver Expeditionary School (grades K-5), Emily Griffith High School (grades 9-12), and Emily Griffith Technical College (ages seventeen and up). And as part of the new facilities, the college will have an up-to-date cafe, barber shop, salon and spa, where students can share their skills with the public.

DPS will celebrate the new project, as well as the life and legacy of Emily Griffith, at 9:30 a.m. today at the newly named Emily Griffith Campus, 1860 Lincoln Street.

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "DPS sells Contemporary Learning Academy for $12 million."