Charlene Phifer walked into the empty space at Rosedale Elementary last week and paused a second to take it in.
The cavernous space she walked into has a corner filled with debris and missing ceiling panels, all surrounded by blush-hued carpeting and muted yellow walls. Phifer was there as part of walking tours at the school provided by the district, and the group kept jackets on while they walked through the unlit halls.
Phifer spent decades at the school near Iliff Avenue and Sherman Street, first as a student then as a paraprofessional. It’s been more than a decade since any learning has taken place here: Liz Mendez, an executive enrollment director at Denver Public Schools, said it was closed in 2005 due to low enrollment.
“It was really sad, but I knew because of the neighborhood demographics that it was going to happen because there are more older people and not enough young people coming in,” Phifer said. “We used to have so much fun.”
Mendez said the school was built in 1924 and got some building additions in the ’40s and ’70s. It’s not a city or state historic landmark.
But a bid from the Archdiocese of Denver means the district is considering what this building’s next chapter will look like. It includes asking the public whether a sale — possibly to the church organization to turn it into a 400-student high school — is in the school and community’s best option.
The district held public hearings to get feedback on what residents want to see at 2330 South Sherman St., including one last Thursday at South High School. More than 100 people attended (including Phifer).
The district sees four options for the school, which sits in the eponymous Rosedale neighborhood in south Denver. The options include:
- Renovating the school for DPS to use
- Renovating the school and leasing it to a third party
- Selling the school
- Keeping the school as a vacant building
During the meeting at South High School, district Deputy Superintendent of Operations Mark Ferrandino said it would cost roughly $15.7 million to renovate the school. The building is assessed at $3.2 million, according to online property records.
“As a steward of taxpayer-funded assets, we have a duty to make sure we received the best possible offer out there,” Mendez said. “We also would likely put some restriction on a sale, so we would be able to say we are only looking for buyers meeting certain criteria.”
The public meeting got tense at times.
Audience members felt questions were unanswered, not enough time was given to ask them and that the district wasn’t being transparent about the entire project.
Pam Pritzel wasn’t ready to say which option she supported, though she was wearing a “Save Rosedale Elementary School” sticker. Pritzel said the district wasn’t forthcoming enough about the offer they received from the archdiocese — Ferrandino said it first got the proposal from the archdiocese in June.
But Ferrandino added DPS waited to share it until the school board election was complete since the school board members representing the area had not yet been elected. Ferrandino said since the district knew the process would be lengthy, he wanted it to start with the new board.
Pritzel said the process is being pushed “really quickly.”
“I guess the problem is that DPS holds the cards, and if they’re not willing to share that information, I mean, I think that you just have to look at it as they’re certainly not looking at the interest of the neighborhood,” Pritzel said.
John Fleckenstein attended the meeting with his brother. He lives in the Rosedale neighborhood and has siblings who attended Rosedale Elementary, while his mother, Dolores, was a crossing guard at the school. The former Denver Post paperboy said that while he has some personal connection to the school, he supports the archdiocese’s plan.
“It would be, first and foremost, a very positive thing for the neighborhood,” said Shirley Crites, a Centennial resident who owns property near the school.
Crites is a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, which is near Rosedale Elementary, and said selling it to the archdiocese would provide an option to keep the school in place.
Archdiocese of Denver spokesperson Mark Haas, who attended the meeting at South, provided a statement to Denverite about the archdiocese’s interest in the school. It wants to convert the building into a high school, using private donors to fund it. Haas said in an email the original building would remain, but there would be upgrades.
“After sitting dormant for 15 years, this is an option that honors the rich history and original intention of the building, while making an investment in the neighborhood that will be a benefit for the entire community for years to come,” Haas said in the statement.
The archdiocese currently runs seven high schools and 35 elementary schools, serving 12,000 students.
If the district takes the selling option, it would create a bidding process open to anyone, not just the archdiocese.
Phifer said she’s not in favor of the plan to turn the school into a high school. Insufficient parking is a concern for her.
“I just don’t think this is quite the place for (it),” she said, standing inside a space near the hallway she said used to be a classroom. “It would be wonderful if they were like a hundred students in here, with maybe 40 cars. But this is, if you checked outside there is no place to park. I had to park in the street when I worked here …”
A decision on the building’s future will need school board approval. Mendez said the school board will get a report this month based on feedback from meetings like the one at South. A decision on the building is still “months” away.