Indian School Edmolition

Date July 29, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


Razing History
Indian School Tears Down Old Buildings

The state Historic Preservation Division is looking into why the Santa Fe Indian School is knocking down historic buildings on its century-old campus.

A 1994 survey by the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined that 24 of the campus€™s Pueblo Revival buildings were eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, according to division spokesman Tom Drake.

While it€™s unclear how many of those structures have been razed, at least some the demolished buildings are known to have been historic and eligible for the register, Drake said.

€œThe buildings really were rather significant,€ Drake said Tuesday. Structures that have been identified as eligible for historic listing enjoy the same protection as those actually in the register, Drake said.

Drake said the division does not have any reason to believe the school committed wrongdoing in razing the historic buildings. Still, while the division had heard rumors that the demolition of the old campus might be in store, it was caught by surprise when the bulldozing began over the weekend.

€œWe were taken by surprise. But we did have rumors that something was going to happen, but we couldn€™t substantiate it,€ Drake said.

The ramshackle homes and other buildings have sat mostly deserted for several years, ever since students and staffers moved into the school€™s modern facilities built along the backside of the campus.

Yet the site of bulldozers tearing into buildings that have long been part of the Cerrillos Road cityscape created a stir among historic preservationists, as well as with longtime residents taken aback by the resulting mountains of rubble where familiar structures stood. One Journal reader compared the scene to the German city of Dresden after it was destroyed during World War II.

Amid the hubbub, Indian School officials refused to answer questions but released a statement Tuesday.

€œAfter completing various assessments over the past five years the Santa Fe Indian School exercised its sovereign authority and due diligence to take actions by demolishing buildings to remove the imminent health, safety and security threats to protect the students and staff of SFIS, and including the general pub- lic,€ the statement said.

The state Environment Department has no jurisdiction over the school, a spokeswoman said. But Environment Secretary Ron Curry plans to send a letter to school administrators offering assistance in monitoring any issues with asbestos or other concerns at the site.

The seventh- through 12thgrade boarding school belongs to the 19 New Mexico pueblos and is managed by a school board. The school grounds are considered Indian land.

By tearing down a set of City Different landmarks, the school may have revealed a new one: a modern campus that opened in 2006 which many passing motorists likely never knew existed.

The $31 million project includes an activities center, dorms, classrooms and plaza, designed to be New Mexico€™s €œ20th€ pueblo. Designed in a Pueblo Revival style using traditional building materials such as vigas, latillas and adobe, the campus is meant to echo students€™ home communities, according to design architect Van Gilbert of Albuquerque.

Gilbert said the cost of bringing the old buildings along Cerrillos up to code would have been higher than constructing the 21st-century campus.

€œI understand the historic aspects and all that, but those buildings were dangerous,€ Gilbert said.

A wellness center, gymnasium, running track and facility for the use by northern pueblos is now under construction and is expected to be completed by 2009 at a building cost of $8 million, Gilbert said. The new campus was the largest school project the Bureau of Indian Affairs has ever funded, federal officials have said.

Superintendent Joe Abeyta was quoted in a 2002 Santa Fe New Mexican article as saying the 19 tribes hoped to maintain and restore the old buildings.

In any event, Gilbert said the glimmering new facilities have transformed students€™ experience at school. €œI think it€™s a great model for education of the future,€ he said.

The new pueblo-like buildings stand in stark contrast to the campus as it was first built around the turn of the last century.

The original brick schoolhouse was completed in 1890 by a local builder under supervision of an architect in Washington, D.C., according to €œOne House, One Voice, One Heart: Native American Education at the Santa Fe Indian School.€

€œRed brick with two stories and a pitched tin roof, the building did not relate in any way to the architectural traditions of the region,€ author Sally Hyer writes.

Students were housed in barracks-like sleeping corridors. Each morning they awoke to a bugle call that was followed by drills, marches and English-only vocational classes, according to Hyer. More structures followed, including a classroom building, hospital and barn.

The curriculum and the campus were overhauled in the 1930s to reflect the school€™s regional identity with sixteen buildings remodeled in Spanish Pueblo Revival Style with the help of New Deal funds, according to Hyer.

In addition to the 1994 BIA survey, the state determined in 1998 that one structure €” the Field Health Building adjacent to the Indian Hospital €” was eligible for historic protection because it retained €œa high degree of historic integrity from this period with surviving features including the portal, courtyard, six over six double-hung slash, and doors.€

Drake of the preservation division said it was unclear whether the Field Health Building was still standing on the 114-acre campus.

Drake said the 1966 Historic Preservation Act prohibits the demolition of historic buildings if federal funds are spent on the project. The spokesman said the division does not know if federal dollars were used in the demolition.