Construction Watch

Is Emily Griffith School Plan a "Nice" Combo of Preservation, Development?

Emily Griffith would give this project an incomplete. The legendary educator founded the Opportunity School in Denver a century ago, opening a groundbreaking program that was geared toward giving an education to anyone in the city — no matter where they were from, no matter what their background. The free school started out in an abandoned Denver Public Schools building, but a decade later the Opportunity School moved into a new DPS facility in the 1200 block of 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 — 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; 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 would like to sell the property, and for developers, who'd like to build there.  In late 2012, the DPS wanted to apply for a certificate of non-historic designation, which would have allowed the destruction of the complex. 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.

Last month, when I checked in on the status of the property — in advance of the Party of the Century, which honored Emily Griffith, on February 8 — officials were so tight-lipped that you would think I had asked for the answers to a top-secret civics exam. But on the maps released last week showing the city's plans for a rejuvenated Denver Performing Arts Complex, the 1200 block of Welton Street definitely appears to be in play.

Now Historic Denver's Annie Levinsky reports that whatever happens to that block, Emily Griffitth will be remembered. "The concept that we've developed includes both preservation and redevelopment areas on the site," she says. "It will be defined via a historic designation (being worked on now) that identifies the contributing buildings on the campus and the non-contributing buildings, and defines a development area where significant new construction can take place based on the new owner’s plans. The preservation area (i.e., the area of contributing buildings) includes the Welton Street buildings wrapping around the corner at 13th, and the 1926 building on the corner of 12th and Welton.

"We are excited about this outcome because we think it represents a nice combination of preservation and new development, and it will provide certainty to the community that something meaningful will remain to honor Emily Griffith’s legacy."

Yesterday, the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission got a preview of the plan from Brad Buchanan, head of the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development; that plan will have a formal public hearing on April 19. But in the meantime, there will be an informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. tonight at 1245 Champa Street. The information on that gathering is below; the Historic Denver site has good background on the process thus far.  

Let's hope Emily Griffith herself would give this plan an A. Here's a flier about tonight's event.

Opportunity School Flier.pdf

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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