Our boilers are antiquated," says Jeff Barratt, head of the Emily Griffith Technical College. "I swear, some of them are out of the Titanic."
Close. Emily Griffith, who'd worked as a substitute teacher in Denver Public Schools until she got the okay from the district to start a less traditional school — one that offered evening classes, citizenship courses and training in a variety of trades, with the motto "Public Opportunity — For All Who Wish to Learn" — opened her new DPS school in 1916, three years after the Titanic sank, in a decrepit former school in the 1200 block of Welton Street. The Emily Griffith Opportunity School was such a success that its first home was demolished and replaced with a new building that opened on the same block in 1926. The word "Opportunity" is still inscribed above the door.
And now DPS sees renewed "opportunity" in Emily Griffith — by moving most of its programs to a new, 100,000-square-foot facility in a high-rise at 1860 Lincoln Street that the district is currently rehabbing; relocating trade programs such as welding and auto repair to a leased facility at 12th Avenue and Osage Street; and selling its current property. The move is part of a complicated real-estate deal DPS has contemplated for years, and it got really complicated in the fall of 2012, when the district applied for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status for the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. But after outraged history buffs complained, Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced on December 20, 2012, that DPS had withdrawn that application and would participate in a process with preservation and community stakeholders to seek a new purpose for the buildings. "They sort of recognize that was a little premature," says Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver.
As part of that process, DPS agreed to pay for the work of a Historical Assessment Committee, as representatives of Historic Denver, History Colorado and the Denver Landmark Commission reviewed the site's significance and condition. And last month, Historic Denver sent a formal recommendation to the Denver Board of Education that much of the Emily Griffith Opportunity School site be preserved, starting with the "nationally significant" 1926 building. "Recognizing the fundamental significance of the site, and the value of providing a future buyer with certainty regarding the buildings' status, Historic Denver and the stakeholders recommended that DPS move forward with a local designation for the buildings located along the western side of the campus on Welton Street prior to marketing the property for sale," writes Levinsky in the current edition of the Historic Denver newsletter. If those buildings are granted local landmark status, that 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.
And so this week, DPS, which just sold another school for $12 million, will convene its Emily Griffith Sale Advisory Committee, which will work on recommendations for the sale process. But in the meantime, Emily Griffith is moving ahead with its moving plans — and not looking back. "I can appreciate their concerns," Barratt says. "Bricks and mortar is one thing, but nothing is changing to our mission."
To renovate the school's current home to make it energy-efficient and provide the kind of state-of-the-art technology that Emily Griffith will have at 1860 Lincoln "would be cost-prohibitive," he points out. In the new location, for example, the student-run coffeehouse that has been so popular in the current building will expand to the forty-seat Emily's Cafe, with a prime location on the first floor to attract street traffic, adjacent to a new teaching and learning kitchen.
Meanwhile, the school's current home "can be used for something exciting, keeping the character and honoring an incredibly significant story," says Levinsky.
Emily Griffith would see the opportunity in that.
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