Sell 140-year-old school site? Roseville-area residents say no

Community comes to the defense of Dry Creek Elementary School

Community comes to the defense of Dry Creek Elementary School. The school was originally established in 1876, but was closed in 2014. Will the district sell the site?
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Community comes to the defense of Dry Creek Elementary School. The school was originally established in 1876, but was closed in 2014. Will the district sell the site?

Residents from a small unincorporated area of Roseville are scrambling to save a school that has been in their neighborhood for more than 140 years after recently finding out the school district has put the property up for sale.

Four generations of Kathleen Pruett-Shingleton’s family have attended Dry Creek Elementary School, starting with her great aunt in 1904 and ending with her youngest son now in college. Pruett-Shingleton said her great aunt and grandmother also worked at the school.

So this is emotional for her, said Pruett-Shingleton, who graduated from the former K-8 herself in 1976 — and she isn’t the only one.

Generations of former students turned out at the Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night to express outrage and sadness over the board’s decision to sell the community school. They urged board members to come up with a different solution.

Dry Creek Elementary served its community from 1876 until it was closed in 2014 for what the school district described as failing infrastructure. But it was the first and only school in the district until 1990 and, though it hasn’t been open for several years, news of its possible sale immediately galvanized some residents.

No one in the community seemed to know what the school board was planning to do, said Laura Bullard, a teacher at Woodcreek High School who graduated from Dry Creek Elementary in 1975.

Bullard said she and her husband, a Dry Creek district middle school teacher, were at the district offices a few weeks ago when someone just happened to mention that the Board of Trustees had just voted to approve putting Dry Creek Elementary up for sale.

“It hit us in the face,” said Bullard, who added that the shutting down of Dry Creek Elementary four years ago was to be temporary.

District officials and board members have said that the decision was not made lightly or in haste, has been in the works for years and has gone through a public process. Board members said they understood that Dry Creek Elementary holds special meaning in the community, and also expressed what it had meant to them.

“I love Dry Creek (Elementary) too,” said Diane Howe, board member. “But you know what Dry Creek really is? It’s you. It’s the people. It’s the teachers. It was what we created there, not the building.”

The board had intended to reopen the school, Howe said, but it eventually realized renovating Dry Creek Elementary would be too expensive.

It could cost upward of $4 million to upgrade the necessary infrastructure to sustain Dry Creek Elementary, said Gina Nielsen, district communications officer. The $4 million doesn’t include any other costs related to safety, accessibility and structural upgrades to make the school inhabitable.

According to an email sent to district staff from Assistant Superintendent Jim Ferguson, it would cost $80,000 per year for the district to keep Dry Creek Elementary in its current state and proceeds from its sale would go into the district’s facilities fund.

Nielsen said the district is working to preserve certain aspects of the school, such as the school’s sign and cupola, which will be displayed in the district when a space for it is identified. They have also commissioned professional photographs of Dry Creek Elementary’s murals so they can be incorporated in a display honoring the district’s original school.

“We are very, very sentimental,” Nielsen said. “We are going to do what we can to keep that history alive.”

Bullard said the district is inflating what it would cost to reopen the school. Everyone is looking into different ways to save the school, she said, including contacting descendants of the family who originally donated the land to see if they have any legal rights to the property.

“Dry Creek has sought legal counsel throughout this process to ensure we are operating within our legal rights to proceed with the sale of the Dry Creek Elementary property,” Nielsen said.

But the community isn't ready to give up.

Bullard posted a notice about the sale on a Facebook alumni page called “Memories of going to Dry Creek Elementary School” at the end of last month, “and it literally started a firestorm,” said Stacy Robinson, who graduated from Dry Creek Elementary in 1993.

Robinson, who has a media degree, said after finding out about Dry Creek Elementary being put up for sale she immediately set to work getting the word out. She sent emails to 700 administrators and teachers and contacted area media organizations.

Robinson said she has also approached numerous historical societies and is submitting applications for historical protection status at the local, state and national level for at least one of the Dry Creek Elementary buildings.

“It’s just being washed away like it didn’t matter,” said Robinson, who vowed at the board meeting to not give up until every avenue to save the school has been pursued.