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Lordsburg's first high school listed in National Register of Historic Places

Hidalgo County Herald of Lordsburg, New Mexico

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Lordsburg's first high school (now known as the Enrichment Center) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 17, 2015. The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources. Listing in the National Register of Historic Places provides formal recognition of a property's historical, architectural, or archeological significance based on national standards used by every state.

On June — 12, 2015, the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee (CPRC) of the Historic Preservation Division met in Santa Fe and voted unanimously to forward the National Register of Historic Places nomination of the old high school to the National Park Service for inclusion on the official U.S. list of properties that should be preserved. The committee agreed the building was worthy of preservation at the national level.

"This is the only building you have that is substantial and shows where you've been as a community," said Reginald Richey, an architect from Lincoln, NM, and vice-chairman of the CPRC. "The Old high school is an important monument. It's the best thing you've got." Mr. Richey's comments were directed at Lordsburg School Superintendent Randy Piper, who attended the meeting to speak on behalf of the school district's intent to demolish the building and to object to the listing of the building in the National Register.

Lordsburg Mayor Clark Smith did not attend the meeting but voiced his opposition to the National Register listing in a letter to the Historic Preservation Division.

The school building has been the focus of many years of work by local citizens to raise awareness of its history and to save it. In 2007, the New Mexico

Heritage Preservation Alliance included it on the nonprofit's Most Endangered List. The Hidalgo County Heritage Society, which commissioned the National

Register listing, surveyed Lordsburg citizens and former students and received 379 responses in favor of saving and repurposing the historic building. In 2013, the school district gave permission to list the property in New Mexico's State Register of Cultural Properties. The listing in the National Register makes the building eligible for federal preservation tax credits, which have been used successfully to rehabilitate buildings in communities as large as Albuquerque and as small as Clayton, Silver City, Deming and Hobbs. Notably, Old Albuquerque High School, built circa 1914, was shuttered for decades until it was repurposed for housing and helped spur revitalization for east downtown Albuquerque.

The building is one of the oldest, largest and most significant buildings in the Lordsburg area. The original building was designed in 1916 by J.O. Michaud, a Deming based architect, and completed in 1917, and later remodeled and enlarged to its current size by the notable El Paso-based firm Trost&Trost Architects and Engineering in 1927. The remodeling in-eluded a 3,565 square-foot, two-story auditorium with a full stage and a balcony that was used for performances, movie screenings, community events, a study hall and for staging New deal programs during the Great Depression. The building is significant architecturally for the remodeling completed in the Mission Revival style by Trost&Trost.

The building represents decades of education progress in Lordsburg and reflects a period of growth in Lordsburg during a mining boon that fueled optimism for the town's future and spurred a commitment to establishing a modern setting for education.

The school's most notable student was former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who attended her 8th grade in the building during the war years when she became homesick while attending a private school in El Paso for her Lazy B Ranch near Duncan, Arizona. She tired of the commute over rutted ranch roads to the border where she had to wait for a bus and decided to resume her schooling in El Paso the following year.

The building served as the community's high school until 1951 when the present day high school was built, and subsequently served the community as the Lordsburg Junior High

School for two decades until a new middle school was completed in 1971. The building then became known as the Enrichment Center and was used for special education classes, administrative offices, and miscellaneous storage until its abandonment in or about 1976.

The building holds strong memories for many in the community as mentioned by Aid a Saucedo Estrada, who was one of three former Lordsburg students who at-tended the June 12 meeting in Santa Fe. A graduate of Lordsburg High School, Ms. Estrada admitted she was sentimental about saving it, and said it should be preserved so younger generations have a visual anchor to Lordsburg's past.

In 2010, a New Mexico State University study of the building's structural integrity concluded that it "is sufficiently intact to justify preservation and restoration." As a whole, the building retains the National Register of Historic Places' seven aspects of integrity — location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association — and continues to communicate its historical and architectural significance.

The CPRC acknowledged the building was in "dire condition," as stated by committee member Matthew Bandy. In recommending it for the National Register, the CPRC said it was basing its decision on the importance of the building to Lordsburg's history.

In July 2015, Cara McCulloch, President of the New Mexico Architectural Foundation, wrote to Mr. Piper and Mayor Smith urging them to "find a beneficial use for the building," and stated that the building "is clearly an important part of your community's history, and its preservation would maintain and improve the physical character of your community as well as local residents' sense of pride in Lordsburg."

Ms. McCulloch further stated: "We emphasize here that preserving historic buildings is not just about the past. It is very much about the future, because preserving significant buildings provides space for new ventures and activities. This fact is proven again and again, nationwide, every year. Historic preservation is part of successful community development and often plays a part in economic development."

Copyright 2015 Hidalgo County Herald, Lordsburg, New Mexico. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 6, 2015

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