The former Walsenburg Middle School was constructed in 1920 as Huerfano County High School on land provided to the City by its founder, Fred Walsen. The structure was designed by Isaac Hamilton Rapp, 1854-1933, whose firm, Rapp and Rapp, was one of the foremost architectural firms in the southwest during that period. The high school’s design is Collegiate or Military Gothic, a design created by the Rapps for the New Mexico Military Institute. Very few schools in that design remain standing today. The structure served as the community’s high school until 1975 when it became Walsenburg Middle School. The School District closed the school in May 2004, moving the students to other facilities beginning with the 2004-05 academic year.
The Spanish Peaks Library was founded in 1906 and the Spanish Peaks Library District was approved by the voters of the Huerfano School District RE-1 in 1998. After stabilizing the operations of the Library, the Board of Trustees established an expansion fund. The current library building is limited because of size. This limitation is especially acute in serving children and patrons with disabilities; children’s services are located in the basement. Size also limits what may be housed at the library. Currently, all archival materials are stored off-site, creating great difficulty for those wishing to conduct research on the county and region. In addition, community programming is greatly limited, as the library has no true gathering space to house events, programs, or meetings.
The Walsenburg market area is characterized by low-income levels (nearly half of the state’s median income), high unemployment (more than double the state’s average) and low education levels (less than 10% have a four year college degree). New construction and investment in the community can be characterized as dismal, with nine total building permits recorded for new homes in the City of Walsenburg during an eight year period from 1996 through 2003. Twenty-two percent of the population is age 60 or older creating a need for options other than single-family housing.
During January 2005 members of the “Save Our Schools” group requested that the Library Board consider moving the library to the Walsenburg Middle School, a building they were hoping to save from planned demolition by the local school board. Over the next several months, extensive evaluations of the building were made with the assistance of Colorado Preservation, Inc. As the Library Board became aware of the actual costs of providing the needed space on their current site and the possibility of acquiring more space in the middle school building, they became more committed to the middle school project, as did the owners of a local business and the county economic development association. After lengthy discussions with local school and government officials, it became obvious that approval of this project would be most successful if the Library District were the lead agency and sole owner of the building.
In order to make it feasible for the Library to take on such a major project it was necessary to develop a comprehensive plan for the building. In September 2005 the Huerfano County Community Assessment SWOT Analysis was completed confirming the identified needs and recommendations of community members who had supported the reuse of the middle school building for training and workforce development. With the assistance of the Trinidad State Junior College Small Business Development Center, a plan was created for the use of the second floor based on these recommendations. The Library is committed to making this facility a total Learning Center for the community; education and life-long learning is one of the core values adopted by the Spanish Peaks Library District. Arnold C. Ray, CRE, said it best in his feasibility report on the reuse of the middle school building: “Given the local market conditions, the community of Walsenburg desperately needs assets and economic stimulus. That condition also presents the primary challenges to this proposal. The weakness of the market challenges available resources (i.e. capital and operating funds), potential user demand and has resulted in a defeatist attitude. In my opinion, it would be a significant psychological boost to turn this incredible challenge into a successful accomplishment.”
The Library District committed the $450,000 in its Expansion Fund to be used to remodel the first floor of the building as an expanded, twenty-first century library. Additional assessments of the school building have identified the need for new heating and cooling systems including insulation, new wiring and plumbing including a fire sprinkler system, and upgrading all the facilities to meet ADA standards including an elevator. Asbestos abatement will also be required. Without additional funding, the unique opportunity to create a Learning Center on the second floor will be lost. The Library District’s vision for this space would complement the functions of the Spanish Peaks Library District by delivering adult learning and training programs that focus on workforce development and life-long learning opportunities. These have been identified as key issues in Huerfano County. Many other community service agencies have expressed an interest in being housed in this building, but cannot make the economic commitment to pay for needed remodeling costs. In order to provide low-cost facilities to these agencies, it will be necessary to complete all the required upgrades so they will be able to commit their funds to join in the new Library and Learning Center. If the building can be used for these purposes it will not only revitalize the faith of local citizens in their community but also provide trained workers and an historic presence to welcome visitors to Huerfano County.
- Provide space for Young Adults to meet, study and play in a safe environment
- Promote opportunities for children and seniors to learn 21st Century skills while providing these services for businesses and residents so they can remain and invest in rural Colorado
- Gather together archival material stored in various attics and storerooms around the county
- Make available classrooms and office space for workforce development and business incubation
- Provide evening and weekend access to government resources and tourist information, not available elsewhere in the community
- Provide a low-cost energy efficient building with modern services to a variety of community agencies to promote training, e.g. hospital, community college, post office, realtors
- Provide much needed economic stimulus through construction expenditures during rehabilitation