Emily Griffith Opportunity School's Fate Unknown as New College Campus Opens

Today starts a new era at the Emily Griffith Technical College, which will welcome students to a new campus at 1205 Osage Street. The facility has cutting-edge training spaces for Emily Griffith's  College of Trades and Industry and ever-expanding Continuing Education Division — a stark contrast to the three continuing education classes offered 99 years ago, when the original school opened.

The school is named after the longtime Denver Public Schools teacher and two-time deputy state superintendent of schools who had a dream of starting a school that was open to everyone, regardless of age, income or previous education level. On September 9, 1916, that dream became a reality when Griffith opened the Opportunity School in an abandoned DPS building in downtown Denver. From the start. the school lived up to its motto: “Public Opportunity — For All Who Wish to Learn.”

Operating as a free school within the Denver public-school system, the Opportunity School attracted so many students that by the mid-’20s it had moved into a brand-new building at 1250 Welton Street, where the word “Opportunity” was inscribed above the door. Over the years, it outgrew that space, too, and other buildings were added on the block to meet the growing needs of the community, as the school itself added classes in new fields and expanded its English as a Second Language program to help immigrants and refugees from an astounding range  of countries. After she retired in 1933, Emily Griffith's name was added to the title of the school, which later split into the Emily Griffith High School as well as the Emily Griffith Technical College.

Last year, the high school opened in a new campus, in a retrofitted high-rise at 1860 Lincoln Street. Some of the technical classes — as well as the hair salon and culinary kitchens — moved to the new space; others finished off the year in the building at 1250 Welton while a new home was tricked out in the La Alma neighborhood; it's not easy putting welding shops in a downtown office building.

The move leaves behind an extra-credit question: What's going to happen to the circa 1925 building on Welton Street? “We’ve been advocating for a preservation solution that is meaningful and authentic, given that the site is not only architecturally significant, but nationally significant for its association with Emily Griffith and the technical-college concept,” says Annie Levinsky, head of Historic Denver. That organization first raised alarms about the possibility that DPS might sell the building, which has a desirable location right by the convention center.

Two years later, its fate is still uncertain. But after Historic Denver protested, DPS pulled back on plans to sell while more study was done. Now Brad Buchanan, head of Denver Community Planning and Development, has stepped in to lead the process of determining its future; the city will hold a meeting next month to continue the conversation. In the meantime, notes Levinsky, "the site is still not actively on the market."

With any luck, its fate will be determined by 2016 — the year that the city will mark the hundredth anniversary of Emily Griffith founding her landmark educational concept.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun