Efforts Underway To Save Schoolhouse
The Weekly Bulletin – Marion Vendituoli – November 9, 2009
German Quiroga is a good son. He promised his mother that someday he would try to save the one-room schoolhouse she attended from 1939-1948 in Lochiel along the border in the San Rafael Valley.
That is just what he is trying to accomplish. Elena Quiroga would see the old building by the side of the road each time she went to visit her family’s cemetery, and was saddened by the disrepair and neglect of the old building.
Chalkboards on the walls and an abandoned swing set in the tall grass evoke images of the ranch children that attended this school.
The large cottonwood that grows by the road out front has been there long enough to have witnessed students playing on the swings and working at those green chalkboards.
German Quiroga, who is also president of the Patagonia Museum board, is spearheading the fight to save the building, enlisting the support of his family and friends. He would like to see it designated as a national historic site.
The building was built in 1911 and has been owned by the Patagonia school district since the Lochiel School closed in 1972. In 1987 the school board tried to sell the building, along with the adjoining teacher’s quarters, but there was no one interested in buying the property and it fell into disarray.
The Patagonia school board met Wednesday, Oct. 28, to discuss the future of the schoolhouse. “Everyone in this room wants to see that school preserved,” said Superintendent Robert Tollefson.
The district could sell the property, which has been appraised at $20,000. Any sale would carry the condition that the historical integrity of the building would have to be maintained. The option of leasing the property was also discussed at this meeting. The issue of liability was foremost for many of the board members, and further legal clarification on this issue was requested.
German Quiroga’s group is not necessarily interested in purchasing the property, but is primarily interested in preserving the building and perhaps converting it into a site for the proposed Patagonia Museum, as well as an educational center available for workshops and field trips.
School board member Cynthia Matus-Morriss recounted taking a group of students to the Lochiel schoolhouse on an overnight trip years ago to study astronomy.
Tollefson predicts a decision by the board by the end of June 2010.
Quiroga, in the meantime, would like to clean up the property, which is strewn with debris and garbage. This might be a community effort. “A joint effort between the school and Mr. Quiroga’s group would be an important show of good faith,” said school board member Janet Wynans.
Terry Rodriquez hopes that the Patagonia Museum could be housed at the Lochiel schoolhouse. The Patagonia Museum is at present a ‘virtual museum’ that can only be visited through the Patagonia Library Web site.
“It could become a destination place,” she said. “You could have some really great things out there.”
Board member Jan Johnson suggested the board lease the property to the Patagonia Museum group for 99 years. “I want 50 years from now that a school board would say that this board did a good thing.”
For now, German Quiroga’s goals are to raise awareness and funds for the preservation of the Lochiel schoolhouse. “We have a long way to go,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: Vendituoli of Sonoita, is a freelance writer.)