Student rehabbers on board as Vail tries to preserve its railroading past

2014-04-12T00:00:00Z Student rehabbers on board as Vail tries to preserve its railroading pastBy Veronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A former railroad station foreman house once slated for demolition is being given new life through a partnership between the Vail Unified School District and the Vail Preservation Society.

The house, built in 1915 at the site of the Marsh Station, now sits on the campus of Vail’s newest school, the railroad-themed Esmond Station K-8, a nod to the town’s railroad history.

“When Esmond Station was being planned, the preservation society thought this was a great opportunity to merge Vail’s past and its future,” said J.J. Lamb, executive director of the preservation society.

The four-room building was moved from Marsh Station to an area near Interstate 10 and Wilmot Road in the 1970s and had been used for storage since.

It was purchased by the preservation society and moved to the school, where it was placed near an 1880s rail bed last April.

Students from Cienega High School’s construction technology classes have been working with preservationists to rehabilitate the house and photography students from Empire High have been documenting the process.

Through the process, students have learned about Vail’s railroad connections.

“It helps them understand the history of where they’re from and kind of grounds them,” said Mike Keck, construction technology teacher, of the project.

Vail never produced a downtown area and after all the railroad buildings were moved in the 1970s, there was nothing left to indicate it was a railroad town, Lamb said.

“For a community it’s sometimes hard to retain that sense of identity and sense of community when there are no landmarks,” she said.

Keck’s five classes, with more than 100 students total, are out at the site every school day working on the project.

The goal is to preserve as much of the original structure as possible, Lamb said.

On Monday, pairs of students worked on removing panels from the building’s windows so they can be refurbished.

Senior Zach Cazee said the job requires patience and the careful use of a pry bar.

“We have to carefully pry them out without breaking the wood,” he said.

The job is made more challenging because some of the aging panels have cracks running all the way through them.

Another pair of students found a surprise when they removed some window panels. Piles of dirt and an old hornets nest spilled onto the floor when the piece was pried off. And an old vine that grew up through the wall was revealed.

It’s not the first curious thing that’s been discovered during the process, Lamb said.

When two layers of linoleum were peeled away to uncover the original floor, workers found the floor was lined with newspapers from 1949. The papers were saved and will be archived, she said.

Work on the project is expected to take about two to three years, and it’s being funded solely from donations through the preservation society. The next fundraiser is happening at the school today.

When it’s complete the house will be used for exhibit, office and classroom space.

“The students are getting to incorporate this building into their generation ... and make it relevant for them,” Lamb said.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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