Kim Schools

Location: Kim
County: Las Animas County
Date Constructed: 1933-1941
Built by: CWA, FERA, WPA


The Kim Schools includes three buildings: an elementary school, gymnasium, and high school. The three buildings are located in a row on State Street, and are prominent landmarks in the small community. All the school buildings are constructed of locally quarried sandstone, giving the schools a unified appearance. The buildings rest on stone foundations and feature quarry-faced masonry with beaded grapevine joints. The design of the elementary school and high schools is very similar, both low, flat-roofed buildings with stepped parapet roofs. While the Rustic style is predominant in the appearance of the buildings, the use of stepping and set backs reflects the influence of the Art Deco style. Both the elementary and high schools feature regularly coursed ashlar masonry. The gymnasium building, located between the elementary and high schools, is higher in profile and topped with a hipped roof. It is constructed of random coursed ashlar.

The northernmost of the school buildings is the elementary school. This single-story building measures 72’ x 133’. The quarry-faced masonry walls are laid in regular courses. The roof is flat, surrounded by a stepped parapet wall on the front and sides. The school has a modified rectangular plan with projecting bays at the northeast and southeast corners. An entrance is centered on the front facade and additional entrances are centered on the north and south sides. All the entrances are distinguished by stepped bays that project above the top of the parapet wall.

The gymnasium is located between the elementary school and the high school. It is constructed of quarry-faced ashlar blocks laid in random courses. It is taller than the elementary and high school buildings, with a raised basement, main level, and balcony level. A hipped roof covers the building, which measures 100’ x 60’. The building has a modified cross-shaped plan with a full-height vestibule section centered on the front facade and a rear cross gable section extending to the north and south. The vestibule is covered with a front-facing gable roof. The rafter tails are exposed on the hipped and gabled roofs. The roof is sheathed with asphalt shingles. According to a historic photo, the original roof material appears to have been shingle as well, though the current roof is not original. Beneath the gable ridge of the vestibule, a polygonal shaped stone is inscribed with “CWA.” An exterior masonry chimney is located on the northern end of the west (rear) side; the base of the chimney is larger than the shaft. The front entrance is set within a segmental masonry arch opening. Above the arch there is a stone with “Kim Gym” inscribed on it.

The southernmost building is the high school. The single-story, building measures 82’ by 113’. The quarry-faced masonry walls are laid in regular courses. The roof is flat, surrounded by a stepped parapet wall on the front and sides. The high school has a modified rectangular plan with small projecting bays at the northeast and southeast corners. A cornerstone laid by the M.W. Grand Lodge A.F. and A.M. of Colorado is located at the northeast corner. A small red brick chimney is located at the southwest corner of the school. An entrance is centered on the front facade and additional entrances are centered on the north and south sides. A rectangular stone with “Kim High School” carved in relief is located above the front entrance. All the entrances are distinguished by stepped bays which project above the top of the parapet wall. The entrance doors are recessed within segmental masonry arch openings.


The Kim Schools meet Criterion A for its significance in the areas of Social History. Constructed through the CWA, FERA, and WPA, the district presents an important record of the federal relief programs administered in eastern Colorado during the Great Depression. The public works jobs helped families as well as communities survive during the Depression years, and provided an infrastructure that could not have otherwise been built. The Kim Schools speak to the determination of its residents to survive the Depression years, and to the federal government programs that were developed to help them do so. A young and isolated town, Kim was in particular need of aid. The series of school construction projects provided much needed jobs throughout the Depression as well as replacing schools damaged by dust storms. The community need is evident in the fact that New Deal agencies approved three school projects for Kim.

The Kim Schools also meet Criterion A for education. Schools and gymnasiums were very popular New Deal projects. Many small school districts could not afford gymnasiums or new school buildings and the New Deal programs were an ideal opportunity to improve their educational facilities. Previous to the New Deal programs, Kim had no gymnasium and its schools were housed in make-shift frame buildings. The CWA and WPA projects clearly improved public education in this rural area. School improvement projects, such as roof repairs, leveling grounds, laying sand for playgrounds, painting and constructing horse or bus barns were much more common for the CWA than major construction projects. Schools in Las Animas County with CWA school improvement projects included Aguilar, Prairie Star, Valley View, Model, Trinidad, and Trinchera. Many more school improvement projects in the county were approved, but never constructed. The only other large CWA construction project in Las Animas County was for an adobe and concrete gymnasium at Branson. Like the Kim gymnasium, the project was transferred to the WPA when the CWA ended. The WPA constructed many rural school projects in Las Animas to serve the counties’ disperse population including buildings at Thatcher, El Moro, Weston, Rugby, Aguilar, and Segundo. The Kim Schools are an unusual collection of educational buildings with a separate gymnasium, elementary, and high school building.

The Kim Schools also meet Criterion A for Entertainment/Recreation. The gymnasium and community building constructed by the CWA provided a location for physical education and athletic events as well as dances, movies, and other community gatherings. In a small rural community, established only sixteen years earlier, it was the first such building. It provided a vital morale boost to a community suffering during the Depression.

The buildings meet Criterion C for its Architectural significance as an example of Rustic CWA and WPA construction. The Kim Schools District reflects the traditional construction techniques and use of local materials characteristic of CWA and WPA buildings. The Kim Schools are an excellent example of rustic New Deal design. Rustic characteristics featured in the buildings include the use of native stone, traditional construction methods, evident hand craftsmanship, and simple, functional design. The elementary and high school buildings also have the low silhouettes and horizontal emphasis often found in Rustic designs. The buildings’ craftsmanship, materials, and construction methods are reflective of their origin as public works programs designed to provide employment. These sturdy stone buildings also gave an appearance of permanence to a new community. The rustic design originating with the National Park Service emphasized the use of native materials and adaptation of indigenous or frontier methods of construction. This design philosophy was an ideal fit with the CWA and WPA. The goal of these programs was employment, so the majority of costs were directed to labor. Native materials were used because they were usually the least expensive. Traditional construction methods were used to save the expensive of power tools and large machinery and because they provided more employment. Both rustic architecture and federal relief buildings were meant to be simple and functional.

Historical Background

The community of Kim dates to 1917 when the first post office was established here by O.D. Simpson. The name for the town was provided by Simpson’s wife, who had just finished reading Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. In 1925, The Chronicle-News described Kim as an optimistic “sturdy, thriving youngster of a town.” It was home to a couple hundred residents and the hub of a thriving farming area. Crops included wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye, broom corn, beans, Kaffir, and Milo maize. According to the paper, the town was up-and-coming and well situated for future growth; “seizing its opportunities and reaching out, Kim has hitched up to the procession of Progress and is moving right along.”

The first grade school was established around the same time as the post office, held in a half dug-out building. As the school outgrew this building, two small tar paper shacks were constructed, one for grades 1-4, the other for grades 5-8. In 1920, a one-room pre-fabricated building was purchased to be used as Kim’s first high school. It opened in September 1920 with one teacher offering a two year course consisting of four subjects: Algebra, U.S. History, English, and Latin. Three students completed the first year and were promoted to sophomores. In 1924, a new pre-fabricated building was added to the school and a four year high school program begun. In 1925, the district established four bus routes to bring students to Kim. The teaching staff and enrollment continued to grow and by early 1930s, the school buildings were overflowing.

In the 1930s, Kim and the surrounding area had a population of about 700 with roughly 200 grade and high school students attending school in Kim. During the community’s early years, there was great enthusiasm for dryland farming and ranching. In 1933, the town of Kim was a commercial center for the surrounding farm and ranch land. The town had three general merchandise stores, two cafes, three gas stations, a newspaper, barber shop, bank, cobbler, drug store, hotel, and tourist cabins. But beginning in the late 1920s the Kim area was struck hard by drought and dust storms, devastating its agricultural economy.

The Civil Works Administration (CWA) was organized in late 1933. It was designed to be a public works program that could put people to work quickly, providing immediate relief to help people through the winter. Jobs were typically small, since the projects were intended to last only 90 days. Road improvements, flood control, and recreational facilities were popular projects in Colorado. The Public Works Administration (PWA) had been established earlier in the year, but its large scale projects required careful planning and technical expertise so few were underway yet. In December 1933, Kim was awarded a CWA project for the construction of a gymnasium and community building. According to The Chronicle-News, the Kim gymnasium and community building was one of 33 projects approved in Las Animas County, and a project that would “greatly serve the east end of the county.” J.R. Clark, the director of Kim schools, prepared the plans and specifications. The CWA project application budgeted $4290 for the project. Kim would contribute $500 in cash and $708 in materials and labor including a supervisor, a truck, rock, and sand. Many from the community donated time and money to the project. The project foreman, Otis Dickey, gave back almost all the salary he received and local farmers donated their time and use of tractors. Work started on December 12, 1933 and construction was estimated to last 60 days.

Construction on the gymnasium would take much longer than estimated, a problem that plagued all the Kim school projects. The first supplemental application was made in January 1934, soon after work began. It requested an additional $1539 in federal funds be added to the project funding to pay for grading and leveling the school yard around the gym and for plastering the gymnasium. At the end of February 1934 (roughly 60 days after work started) there was another application to continue work on the gymnasium. At this point, the gymnasium was 30 percent completed, with foundations placed and walls up to a height of 5 feet. This new application was for $5369.50 in federal funds, primarily for labor, including stone masons, carpenters, a truck driver, and quarrymen. A local contribution of $1760 would be made in building supplies including cement, windows, doors and hardware, sheeting, lumber, rock, and trucks. The application strongly advocated for the continuation of the project:

Kim is an inland town 50 miles from a railroad and it is much in need of the structure which they have started. The community is enthusiastic about the project and very anxious to see it completed. The walls will have to be carried up about 12 feet more and roof trusses set in place, also all interior work. Community has contributed bountifully to this work both in practical materials and labor. . . . to abandon this project now would mean a waste of all money put into it thus far and would deprive this town, which is the center of a drought stricken area, of an improvement which is almost a necessity to the inhabitants. Rock is piled all around the building making it unsafe for children at play (CWA file, Project No. 33).

On March 31, 1934 the CWA program ended, absorbed into the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). In April 1934, the Kim Gymnasium and Community Building was transferred to FERA. At this point, the project was 50 percent complete with the walls up to the first floor and subflooring for the gym installed. Work remaining included carrying the walls up about 12 more feet, roofing, and interior work. It was reported that the community “has contributed heavily” to the project. Construction continued throughout 1934. The Chronicle-News optimistically reported in August that Kim would soon have a fine new community building, with the dedication expected in November. However, in February 1935 the building was still reported to be nearing completion. Exactly when work was completed is not known, but it was likely sometime in the spring of 1935. Kim residents do remember that a dance was held to celebrate the completion of the gym. The building was packed. Admission was 2 bits, but if you did not dance you did not have to pay.

Despite the additional time and funds supplied to construct the gymnasium, when it was completed in 1935, it still lacked heat and lighting. In March 1936, the WPA approved a project to finish the boiler room, complete exterior and interior finishings, and install a boiler, water storage, lights, seating, and window screens. According to the project application, “the building is practically useless without heat, lights, and seating facilities.” The total project cost was $8205 with $5695 of that in federal funds. The WPA provided all labor and the Kim School District provided all the materials. The project was completed in October 1936.

Pleased with the new facilities and jobs that the New Deal programs could provide, and evidently not too concerned with the gymnasium’s lack of heating, the Kim School District had applied for a new school building project before applying for funds to complete the gymnasium. In September 1935 an application was submitted for a stone elementary building to replace the current elementary school which had been badly damaged in a dust storm the previous winter. The total cost was estimated at $26,776.16 with the local school district contributing $4,025. The local contribution included some material costs as well as equipment rental. The WPA contribution included all labor costs, with estimates for $6160 in unskilled labor, $4363 for intermediate labor, $4662 for skilled labor, and $1866 for superintendence. Paul Church prepared the project plans and specification, and the project superintendent was C.A. Church. The sponsor agent was C.C. Church, the president of the school district. The project was approved in November 1935, and the estimated date of completion was May 1936.

Once again, construction in Kim did not go as quickly as planned. In August 1936, there was a application requesting an additional $9489 to continue the project. At this time the new elementary was estimated to be about 75 percent complete. At a project inspection in December 1936, the school was reported to be 85 percent completed. The project inspector reported that work had been very slow, recommending that the WPA should not approve future building projects in Kim since “proper labor” is not available in such a small community. The work was finally completed in March 1937, and the dedication ceremony was held on April 5, 1937. Attending the ceremony were F.W. Corn of Denver, assistant state WPA administrator in charge of publicity, E.J. Roberts of Trinidad, in charge of county WPA projects, and A.H. Preston, the county superintendent of schools. The dedication marked “another forward step in the upbuilding of the far-flung educational school system of Las Animas County.” However, despite the project being almost a year behind schedule, not all of the rooms of the elementary school were finished. Mose Russell remembers agreeing to finish a room, including installing a ceiling and stone, in exchange for being able to use the room for veterans returned to Kim after World War II.

Typical of the frugality of the WPA, materials salvaged from federal buildings demolished at Fort Lyons were reused in the construction of the elementary school. Many old buildings at Fort Lyon were removed as part of WPA improvements at the veterans facility. Materials from these buildings were in great demand and used in WPA projects throughout southeastern Colorado. Bent County officials wanting materials for use in a county office building reported that they had to compete with six other counties currently requesting salvaged materials from Fort Lyons.

Regardless of the delays of the previous projects and negative recommendation of the project inspector, a third school project was approved for Kim in the fall of 1938. This was a stone building for the county high school. According to the project application, the current frame buildings were too small to accommodate the students and were a fire hazard. The total cost was estimated at $39,315 with the county commissioners contributing $4,669 of that amount. The project included demolishing the two frame buildings currently used by the high school and salvaging as much material as possible for use in the new building. The reused materials would count as part of the county’s contribution. Classes were held in adjacent buildings while the building was under construction. All labor costs were covered by the WPA. The application budgeted a total of $30,435 for labor costs. This included: 60 unskilled laborers working 88 hours per month for 6 months at a rate of $44 per month, 23 intermediate laborers working 88 hours per month for 2 to 6 months at a rate of $50.16 per month, and 19 skilled laborers working 88 hours per month for 2 to 6 months at a rate of $63.36 per month. The supervisor, foreman, and timekeeper all worked 176 hours per month. The supervisor was paid $140 per month, the foreman $110 per month, and the timekeeper $90 per month.

The Chronicle-News reported that work was to begin in December 1938. According to an inspection report in November 1939, good progress was being made with the old buildings demolished, the foundations of the new building almost complete, and a third of the walls completed up to 3’ above the footings. Getting materials to the site was a major part of the construction effort, with water hauled 6 miles, sand hauled 14 miles, and stone hauled 13 miles. Twenty-five men were employed at the quarry site. Members of the Grand Lodge of Colorado laid the cornerstone in December 1939, in a full Masonic ceremony. WPA, county, and high school officials attended, celebrating this “occasion of distinct importance.” Attendees included Paul D. Shriver, Colorado Administrator for the WPA.

In August 1940, the WPA approved additional funds to complete the school. According to the project application, inclement weather made quarrying the stone difficult causing the project to go over its original budget. In the supplemental application, the cost was more evenly split, with the federal government contributing $8,674 and the county commissioners contributing $7,061. The new high school building was finally dedicated on January 6, 1941. Community residents as well as WPA and school officials attended the event, with Paul D. Shriver returning to give the address.

With the many construction delays, there were federal relief school projects going on in Kim every year between 1933 and 1941. There are many likely reasons for the project delays. The majority of the work force was farmers with no construction experience. The buildings were erected using shovels, chisels, pulleys, and scaffolding. There were no power tools or large machinery. And in addition to constructing the schools, the workers had to quarry the stone and transport it to Kim. The workers may also have felt no sense of urgency, happy to be able to stay employed on the projects for as long as possible. The elementary school project employed a crew of 55, a substantial number for a small community. According to local residents, the eagle carved beneath one of the high school windows was done by a stone mason killing time. Though local residents remember three skilled stone masons (Benito Ryobel, Phillip Sanchez, and Juan Vanchez ) who worked on the projects, the complaints of the project inspector for the elementary school suggest that Kim’s isolated location and agricultural economy may have made it difficult to get all the trained labor needed for the projects. The fact that Kim received three projects in spite of these difficulties speaks to both the great need of those in this remote, drought-stricken agricultural area as well as the determination of the residents not to give up on their community. In 1934 the Chronicle-News described Kim as having a “fine community spirit” with a community club “active in a movement to advance and develop their area.” It is likely this determination that got the three projects approved and completed.

The Kim Schools have always been a very important part of the community. According to Kim residents, building the new schools provided much needed work for local people and resulted in three beautiful buildings. Kim residents were very happy with the CWA and WPA. President Roosevelt considered a savior for providing jobs and enabling men to provide for families. He was likely the only Democrat that some locals ever voted for. The school buildings have served the community well, remaining in continuous use. In addition to athletics and physical education, the gymnasium was used for recreation, dances, parties, community functions. The gym also had dark shades that could be pulled down to show movies. During the Depression, a local WPA project to make mattresses met in gymnasium.

The Kim school district survived as many other small rural districts in Las Animas County were consolidated in the 1950s. In the first part of the 20th century, there were more than 100 districts in the county; today there are just six. The schools have remained remarkably unchanged. With a shrinking population, there were was few funds for improvements and no need for enlargement.


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