Apathy hurts Amphi preservation idea

2013-05-19T00:00:00Z Apathy hurts Amphi preservation ideaKen Scoville Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

May is National Historic Preservation Month with cities and organizations celebrating their preservation accomplishments and acknowledging their failures.

Historic preservation is a national as well as a local endeavor to preserve historic buildings, landscapes and archaeological sites - the unique heritage of our nation. Without preservation we become illiterate about our past with little value attached to this knowledge other than it being some quaint event of yesteryear.

There will be no preservation celebration for Amphitheater School District as the last historic building, the auditorium on the century-old campus on Prince Road, has had the front steps removed, the concrete awning stripped away, and the window and door openings filled in.

This reinforced concrete building was the second major building for the district during the Depression of the 1930s; the other was the first high school built of adobe and reinforced concrete in 1938 and located just east of the auditorium. Both projects used WPA funds and other monies to complete urgently needed facilities since the campus served the entire district. The auditorium was the activity center for students and community center for families in the area.

The early leadership in Amphi was used to ongoing financial struggles from the time the district was established in July 1893. Rented buildings and sporadic enrollment came to an end in 1913 with a permanent location and a one-room adobe school house east of Stone Avenue and north of Prince Road.

The original high school (later the junior-high building) was razed in 1979 and now the auditorium has lost its identity and context to the evolution of the campus.

I had hoped that this year the auditorium would have been on the National Register and a memorial completed to honor those who made Amphi a success in the 20th century. I failed in the face of a powerful foe.

I began the process for a 2013 celebration by meeting with the associate to the superintendent, Todd Jaeger, in February 2012 to advocate for the listing of the auditorium on the National Register and a "ghost wall" memorial that would feature a reconstructed architectural element of an earlier school building to draw visitors and students in to read the interpretative information on one side. The other side would honor those who have passed on who were involved with the district over the 20th century.

As part of my proposal, I would raise the money for the register listing and the memorial and volunteer my time as the historian for the district.

I then met with Doug Aho, who is in charge of construction projects for the district, to give him the proposal details to forward to the district's architect for design possibilities. By May 2012 no design came forward from the architect.

I then realized that the district's interest was not genuine and it was too late to go to the school board. I had missed my opportunity since plans were already in motion. Ultimately, I would find out the reason for the failure of my proposal.

In October of 2012, the cornerstone of the first high school in Amphi District was discovered in a homeowner's backyard and given to the district. I was invited to meet with Superintendent Patrick Nelson to confirm the identity of this cornerstone and I again advocated for the auditorium's importance and the ghost wall memorial.

Superintendent Nelson said that my proposal was perceived to conflict with the "curb appeal" of the new construction and changes on the Prince Road campus.

Ironically, I received a call from the architect later concerning the identity of the cornerstone and he said he never received my proposal.

My foes, as they have been in many failed preservation efforts, are the current decision-makers who rarely want to honor previous accomplishments of the institution. They approached the heritage of the campus like strip-mall developers.

Hopefully, the ancient mesquite tree where wagons were tied and children climbed survives the construction. That tree is the last visible reminder of a century-old place where schools were built of adobe, a place where students decided to go to war, and a place where students continue to learn through public education.

Email Ken Scoville, a local historian who is retired from the Amphi School District, at opt1775@yahoo.com

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

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