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Legacy of Former Freed Middle School Paves the Way for Future Opportunities

 Photo showing the demolition process at Heroes

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Opened in 1954 as a feeder school for Centennial High School, Freed Middle School’s name is a nod to Nettie Freed, a Pueblo School District 60 graduate and educator who went on to become the state’s first commissioner of education.

From the outset, the sixth, seventh and eighth graders who attended Freed were elated to call themselves Rams and greatly anticipated becoming Bulldogs.

That feeling of pride and attachment to the neighborhood school continued for decades, as thousands of Rams passed through the halls of the West 20th Street institution en route to Centennial.

“It was a different environment then,” said Mike Donnell, who attended Freed in the late 1950s. “If you lived on the North Side and you were going to stay in school here, you went to Freed and then you went to Centennial.”

After the school transitioned from Freed to Heroes K-8 Academy, Mr. Donnell served as a United Way mentor for two years. It was then he realized that the school culture had changed significantly from the time he was a Ram.

“The feelings around the school were a little bit different,” he explained. “I’m not so sure student loyalty, and student anticipation of being a Ram and then a Bulldog, was the same as it was when I was here.”

That attachment to the school, like the condition of the building itself, waned significantly in recent years.

Faced with a series of expensive critical need repairs, and with a dwindling student population, the district elected to close the school in the spring of 2019.

Mr. Donnell, who now serves on the district’s Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee, saw the move as prudent and fiscally savvy.

“You always hate to see a memory go away,” Mr. Donnell said. “But this building is well over 50 years old, and it didn’t have the number of students that we used to have. But it served its purpose.

“The façade looked good but the inside would have to have a fair amount of work before it had another purpose. So this is the logical move.”

Bob Lawson, the district’s executive director of facilities and construction management, said leaving a vacated school building standing is an invitation for illegal activity. Additionally, a mothballed school has a tendency to lower surrounding property values.

“So this will remove that target for vandalism and graffiti, and things like that,” Mr. Lawson said.

The demolition of Heroes K-8, part of 2019’s $218 million bond project, represents the first time in 30 years a vacant Pueblo School District 60 school has been torn down.

With H.W. Houston Construction at the helm, the exterior demolition began on Oct. 8 and was completed before the end of 2020.

The property, which includes a football field/track, gazebo building and auxiliary gymnasium, will be retained by the district as a potential site for a new school.

“It’s just a nice open space and the district, at some future date, will build a new school here,” Mr. Lawson said. 

Although she attended Keating, D60 Board Member Barb Clementi’s father served as a principal of Freed.

“I think it’s important to note that this school is one of the few in our district named for a woman educator,” said Board Member Clementi. “Nettie Freed has a great history here in Pueblo. She was a graduate of the old Centennial, a teacher at Centennial and one of the first superintendents of District 60 when Pueblo school districts were combined.”

Freed, who died in 1979, went on to be elected Colorado’s first commissioner of public education.

Although the building is now torn down, Board Member Clementi said its legacy will help propel D60 into the future.

“That kind of remarkable history helps project us forward into making more remarkable history at this site, and in Pueblo,” Board Member Clementi said. “The bond is a tremendous opportunity for our community, on so many different levels, and I’m grateful to be part of it. 

“And I so look forward to all it’s going to bring to our community.”

Although the demolition represents the first major bond project to be completed, a number of bond-funded renovation and improvement projects are taking place, including door hardware replacement, roof and electrical work, and the replacement of HVAC systems at South High School and Pueblo Academy of Arts – projects that will bring air conditioning to those schools for the first time.

With bond funds, a total of four new schools will be built: state-of-the-art replacements for East and Centennial high schools and for Sunset Park Elementary School and Franklin School of Innovation.

In the case of Sunset Park and Franklin, $30 million in Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grants will complement bond funds to bring the projects to fruition. An architect for the design of the new Sunset Park and Franklin has been hired.

In all, the district is bringing $250 million worth of construction work to the city.

“And we intend to stretch every dollar to do as much as we can,” Mr. Lawson said. “We’re going to do everything we said we are going to do. Every item that was promoted during the bond campaign, every bit of work, we’re going to complete that as listed.

“And hopefully, we will be able to do more with good project management and through the cooperation of our contractors and community.”