As Byers Middle School Readies Reboot, Rosedale Sits Empty

As Byers Middle School at 150 S. Pearl St. prepares to reopen as a Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) in August, Rosedale Elementary School has been vacant for nearly a decade. Could it go the way of Ivywild in Colorado Springs and become a model of adaptive reuse?
Byers Middle School at 150 S. Pearl St. is currently a work in progress, with a major renovation underway to convert it to the fifth campus for the Denver School of Science and Technology, a charter school with a primary campus in Stapleton.

Byers is slated to open this August, 11 years after closing as part of Denver Public Schools' budget cuts in 2003. The work to convert it to DSST was funded by a 2012 voter-approved bond that set aside nearly $20 million for the state-of-the art upgrade. The school will open with 160 sixth graders and grow into a middle and high school with a combined student body of about 900.

About three miles to the south, Rosedale Elementary School closed in 2005.
Since then, it's sat vacant in the neighborhood of the same nameLocated at 2330 S. Sherman St., Rosedale is an elegant Victorian Gothic building that opened in 1924. It was designed by Jules Jacques Benois Benedict, the renowned architect behind the Sports Authority Sports Castle, Chief Hosa Lodge, the Washington Park Boat House and other iconic structures in and around Denver.

Rosedale closed as part of a budget cut that saved DPS $300,000 according to a story in the Rocky Mountain News. The article titled, "Rosedale school says 'goodbye forever,'" obviously didn't leave the reader optimistic it would ever reopen. It was DPS smallest elementary school at the time, with 131 students -- about 57 percent of capacity.

Nine years later, it looks like "forever" may really mean just that. Paint is peeling. Concrete steps are crumbling. The adjacent sidewalk on Iliff is rarely shoveled after snowstorms, and often becomes a sheet of ice after a few days. The front lawn is inhospitable to dog paws because of the burrs.

Of other schools closed by DPS in recent years, Gove Middle School was sold in 2006 and demolished in 2010 to make way for a parking lot at National Jewish medical center. Every one of the other nine schools -- if you include Byers -- closed by DPS in the last decade is currently in use as a school again.

What's next for Rosedale?Rosedale has an enviable location, nearly surrounded by open space on four square blocks.

"Rosedale remains closed," says DPS spokesperson Kristy Armstrong. "It is a difficult site and building because it has limited classroom space and play areas, so the decision to keep it closed is a question of adequate program placement -- as well as cost. The necessary work to reopen would include replacement of the fire alarm system, boilers and piping systems, ventilation systems, inadequate electrical service, roofing and window issues, et cetera."

The et cetera likely includes costly remediation for asbestos and other potentially hazardous materials. If Amendment 66 had passed in Colorado last fall, then the state would be looking at a $1 billion influx into the education coffers, and maybe enough to renovate Rosedale -- but it was resoundingly defeated.

These issues aside, the school has an enviable location, nearly surrounded by open space on four square blocks -- more than 40 acres, much of it in a floodplain for Harvard Gulch, which dives below Logan Avenue here en route to the Platte River in a nine-foot by 14-foot underground culvert built as part of a 1966 flood-control project.

First developed in the 1880s, the surrounding neighborhood of its same name has a history as the home of a "health colony" and orphanage but now is dominated by parkland south of Iliff. On the east side is Rosedale Community Garden and a city maintenance facility. The nine-hole Harvard Gulch Golf Course is nearby, on the former site of the orphanage, as is the CSU-Denver extension.

Looking for models of adaptive reuse of a schoolIn Portland, Oregon, the 1915 Kennedy School was transformed into a hotel.

A 2008 report recommended the district sell Rosedale, but no action was taken.

If officials were to reconsider, DPS procedures call for a 60- to 90-day listing period followed by 45 days for due diligence once a buyer is chosen. At that time, the buyer can apply for rezoning, and then choose to move forward or not based on the outcome.

While DPS' Armstrong has no comment on a hypothetical sale of Rosedale -- "other than to say at this time we have no plans to list it" -- it's certainly time to at least start discussing the possibility of adaptive reuse.

Just down the Front Range in Colorado Springs, Ivywild School is a good place to start looking for ideas. It's now home to a butcher shop, Bristol Brewery and Pub, a market, restaurants, ModboCo School of Art, a music venue and other businesses. The school opened in 1916 and closed in 2009 due to declining enrollment and a budget crunch (sound familiar?), then reopened after a $5 million makeover in August 2013.

In Portland, Oregon, the 1915 Kennedy School was transformed into a hotel by McMenamins, the company behind numerous bars and brewpubs in the city. Located in Portland's Northeast neighborhood, Kennedy closed its doors in 1975 and reopened in 1997 with 57 guestrooms, a restaurant, movie theater, bars and live music in the former gymnasium.

In Detroit, where there are many more vacant schools than Denver, developers have engaged in all kinds of adaptive reuse of shuttered schools as apartments, offices and even a movie theaterAccording to a 2013 Huffington Post article, 40 schools have been sold for $16 million in Detroit, and another 45 are leased.

Closer to home, developers pushed for a controversial demolition of Denver's Washington Park School about a decade ago, but the building survived and was converted into condominiums.

Craig Stack, real estate broker and investor and neighborhood resident, says Rosedale has a great location. "It's a great looking building. It's good real estate. Obviously, this neighborhood is pretty attractive in terms of residential demand."

Stack says he's seen a definite uptick in strollers in Harvard Gulch Park since he moved to the neighborhood in 2005. "More and more people are staying in the city, and they're having kids," he says.

Noting that most elementary schools in South Denver are running over capacity, Stack says Rosedale will most likely become a school again, public or private -- unless a land swap of some kind at a place like Gates could be arranged.

"There's clearly a demand for more Denver infill schools," he says. "It's just a question could afford to buy the school or renovate the school."

How about a microbrewery or something like Ivywild? "I don't know if that's a good retail location," he says. "It might work as an office." Residential would be the most likely reuse, he says.

"It would be great if they could preserve it," Stack adds. "I'd hate it if they tore it down."

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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