Bent County High School

Year Listed: 2004
County: Bent County
Construction Date: 1913
Threat When Listed: Demolition

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) Michener. In addition to its association with significant persons, the school is known for its imposing, three-story, massive-columned architecture. The  school was designed by Swedish architect James Larson in the Neoclassical style with construction completed by Nels T. Nelson and was listed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places in 2010.

The school has been vacant since 2005, and this architecturally and historically significant building is deteriorating.  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.

In 2011, thank to funding from various sources, an adaptive resue study and a historic structure assessment were completed for the building.  Bent County assumed ownership of the property in 2012 when it purchased the building from the Las Animas School District for $1.00.   In the same year, Brownsfield funding was used for cleanup, including asbestos abatement, removal of pigeons, and boarding up the windows.

More recently, CPI paired Bent County with an interested developer to discuss redeveloping the high school into studios. The two parties met to discuss incentives and tax credits. CPI will continue to work to find a viable use for the building so it can once again serve the community.

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