Lochiel schoolhouse gets much-needed care

The Weekly Bulletin – December 6, 2010

For years, the Lochiel Schoolhouse has been a target for vandals and a dumping ground for everything from old batteries to old automobile tires. But now it’s getting a thorough cleaning by volunteers who do not want to see the historic building fall apart.

Located approximately 20 miles south of Patagonia in the San Rafael Valley, Lochiel was once a thriving border town that warranted the construction of a one-room schoolhouse in the 1890s.

But following the closure of nearby mines and the border port of entry, officials decided to close the schoolhouse’s doors in 1972.

German Quiroga, president of The Patagonia Museum whose mother and various aunts and uncles attended the school, said locals began to initiate efforts to save the school last year.

Those efforts paid off when the Patagonia Elementary School District, which still governs the school, agreed to grant a five-year lease to allow volunteers to begin the preservation process.

“We’ve done two clean-ups as basically our first step in restoring the schoolhouse,” Quiroga said.

Pickup-truck loads of trash have been removed over the course of two workdays this fall, he said. Because the school did not have garbage pick-up, refuse was burned in 55-gallon oil drums, which were discarded near the building after they had been filled. In addition, close to a dozen car batteries and over 20 automobile tires had to be removed.

“Little by little we are chipping away at making it presentable,” Quiroga said.

While the building’s location on the border has undoubtedly caused undocumented immigrants to use it as a shelter, Quiroga said, vandals who break windows and leave graffiti behind have done the real damage.

Future plans

“We have a terrible problem with vandalism,” Quiroga said, adding that volunteers have been lately working on cleaning up broken glass and clearing broken branches in order to make the site safe. Museum vice-president Ralph Schmidt has also managed to secure the decrepit corrugated steel roof.

Quiroga said his vision for the schoolhouse is to serve as a small museum to highlight the history of both Lochiel and the San Rafael Valley, and could also be used as a community meeting room just like Cady Hall in Patagonia.

“It will also serve as an educational opportunity for the Patagonia students and will afford the opportunity for field trips and overnight sleepovers for stargazing,” he said.