Jean Bonelli’s office as principal at Boulder High in the 1990s was decorated with several historical pictures of students, including a graduation photo of 26 students in suits and fluffy dresses from 1898.
But with the pictures now tucked away in storage and a continuous influx of new families, she’s worried the school’s history will be lost.
So Bonelli, who is also a past member of Boulder Valley’s school board, started working on a project to preserve the school’s history a couple of years ago with the help of Boulder High assistant principal Melissa Warfield.
“The students and parents, in a lot of cases, don’t know the unique history of Boulder High,” Bonelli said. “They just see it as an old building. Boulder the town and Boulder the high school, they grew up together.”
The vision is for permanent history walls that include pictures, artifacts and interactive elements. The plan is to break the project into three phases, raising $20,000 for each phase for a total of $60,000.
For the first phase, the plan is to add a timeline and historical pictures to the hall off the main entry. The second phase would focus on sports and alumni accomplishments in the main hall leading to the gym. The third phase would show how the school has evolved.
“We want to uncover and document stories that otherwise would be lost,” Bonelli said. “We want our kids who are walking the halls of Boulder High to know that history.”
She said the timeline will start in 1860, when Boulder — still part of the Nebraska Territory — built Colorado’s first schoolhouse at the southwest corner of Walnut and 15th streets.
That same year, Boulder residents lobbied the state Legislature to have the state university located here. They were successful and, in 1872, six Boulder residents donated about 45 acres for a site.
In 1874, the Legislature appropriated $15,000 for the construction, with the community donating a matching amount. The first building constructed was Old Main, and the University of Colorado Boulder opened in 1877.
“We want to honor the determination of the pioneers,” she said. “Those early people were very interested in promoting education. That’s why Boulder has the history that it does.”
Boulder’s first high school students attended Central School, built in 1873 on the same site as the original Pioneer School. Boulder had the first high school graduates in the Colorado territory in June 1876.
With Boulder’s population growing, the high school students were moved to Old Main on the CU Boulder campus in 1877, where they continued to attend the State Preparatory School for about 20 years. Then a separate high school building was built at 1720 Pearl.
In 1936, the current building at 1604 Arapahoe was built as a Public Works Administration project. Completed in 1937, the cost of the Art Deco building was $550,500. The exterior facade is the same local red sandstone as the buildings on the CU Boulder campus.
While principal of the school, Bonelli proposed selling the building to CU and using the proceeds to build a modern building in north Boulder. But both the city, parents and alumni objected.
Instead, the district has paid for several additions and updates to the building. A new science wing was added in 1991, while the school received a new gym and weight room in 2009.
In the last couple of years, the district renovated the school’s library to create a more modern space with garage doors that open to the outside courtyard, along with modernizing the cafeteria and updating the auditorium.
Mark Weatherley, a Boulder High geography teacher who graduated from the school in 1977, said there are minor drawbacks to teaching in such an old building.
With thick concrete walls, it’s not easy to make changes and increase the size of the too-small classrooms, he said. But on the plus side, the school has an interior courtyard, is next to a creek and is close to CU Boulder, he said.
“There are so many newcomers to Boulder,” he said. “The history is sort of lost. It doesn’t have the same resonance.”
Carl Worthington, Jr., who graduated in 1975 and is the head track coach at Boulder High, remembers making pacts with friends who went to the rival Fairview High School not to get into fistfights after sporting events.
While site restraints mean there’s not enough room for all the school’s sports teams, he added, he loves the school.
“It’s a cool place,” he said. “There’s a lot of history.”
Bonelli, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, is focused on collecting stories, historical pictures, artifacts, such as old sports uniforms. Warfield’s focus is on fundraising.
Donations are being collected by the school’s treasurer, Ricki Hetherington, and can be mailed to her at 1604 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 80302.