Year Listed: 2004
County: Bent County
Construction Date: 1913
Threat When Listed: Demolition
Status: IN PROGRESS
One of the threats facing many historic schools is the tendency for communities to build new public school campuses far from the center of town, typically in outer-ring suburbs. Older neighborhood schools are abandoned, often without a new use in sight. The challenge facing many historic schools is finding a new compatible use. This is the threat facing the historic Bent County High School. Constructed in 1913, the school was attended by U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson (an expert on Soviet affairs who served under President John F. Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis); actor Ken Curtis (“Festus” of the long-running television series Gunsmoke); and author James Michener’s wife, Mari (Sabusawa) Michenerl. In addition to its association with significant persons, the school is known for its imposing, three-story, massive-columned architecture. Believed eligible for the National or State Register of Historic Places, the now empty school was designed by Swedish architect James Larson in the Neoclassical style with construction completed by Nels T. Nelson.
The school has been vacant for ten years, and this architecturally and historically significant building is home to pigeons rather than teachers and students. Interior chalkboards and doors have been scavenged, but the beautiful stamped tin ceiling remains as testament to time when schools were deemed worthy of thoughtful and beautiful architectural detail. The structure itself is sound and it is easy to imagine the school being reborn as one of the finest structures in Las Animas.
The Las Animas School Board and Bent County Commissioners are currently in discussion regarding the use of the site as a community and senior center. Plans include reusing the later PWA section of the building, but the 1913 Neoclassical portion seen in the pictures above will be demolished. Fortunately, the School Board is open to viable alternative reuse plans, but time is short.