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Learning lots from a barn

Matt TerrellVail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyRed Canyon High School senior Ben Sack removes the chimney from an old shack in the back of the school as part of a lesson in historical preservation.
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EDWARDS – Ben Sack heaves a stinky, rotting board off the top of an old shed behind Red Canyon High School.The roof is crumbling and unsalvageable, but Sack is careful with the chimney, which he slowly pries out of a mess of nails and cobwebs with his friends Mike Poloski and Kevin Chadwick. The chimney doesn’t look so bad.At this point, they’re not even sure what this shed on Miller Ranch was used for back when cattle covered the hills. Smoking meat? Holding tools? Storing moonshine? An extra room for hired hands? They’ll find out soon, but for now, they say it’s old, telling of the past and deserves a second chance. If they don’t take it down carefully now, it would be destroyed to make room for a new elementary school.Historic preservation isn’t a typical trade learned in shop class, but it’s one they’re enjoying at Red Canyon High School.”It keeps you from forgetting who was here before,” Chadwick said.

This unique history lesson rose out of necessity.

The school’s campus sits on Miller Ranch, and there’s a good chance the shed and an old barn will be demolished when construction starts on June Creek Elementary this summer, which will take Red Canyon’s spot. The high school will get a new building across the street next to Berry Creek Middle School.But those old buildings, which have been around an estimated 60 years, have to go, either by bulldozer or by the hands of some young historians.Tom Gladitsch, a teacher at Red Canyon, said he saw this as an opportunity, a way to teach the students about local history and get them involved. Red Canyon is an alternative school that places emphasis on individualized curriculums, hands-on learning and in-depth studies on single, specific topics. Preserving an old building on their campus seemed like a natural fit.So far, the students have learned about things like barn history, architecture and construction safety. They’ve had in-depth discussions hypothesizing what the shed and barn might have been used for, especially compared to how they might be used in other parts of the country.Soon, they’ll be hearing from members of the Miller family for some first hand history of the area and maybe even of that shed and barn. The kids will write reports and submit them to the Eagle County Historical Society.



It’s like a historical jigsaw puzzle.In the past few weeks, the students have learned the fine art of preservation – the intricate process of taking something apart and putting it back together somewhere safe.

The process involves checking for rotting wood, figuring out what’s salvageable, figuring out a labeling system, taking pictures, drawing diagrams and basically making sure you know exactly how to put it back together once you’ve taken it apart.With the shed, most of the roof will end up in the trash, but the big logs that make up the building have been painstakingly labeled by the students. Gladitsch said this will allow the shed to be rebuilt somewhere else.”It’s a good skill to have, and it’s a lot of fun,” Sack said. “Old buildings are good to save, but you can use these skills with other things, anytime you want to move a building.”Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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