Oct 16, 2017

Upgrades Underway at Historic Clayton High School in Historic New Mexico Town

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rodriguez

Structural work is continuing on one of the most historic buildings in Clayton, New Mexico.

“This is a building that has been in dire need of updating for quite some time,” says Stacy Diller, superintendent of the Clayton Municipal Schools, of the work going on at the Clayton High School.

That updating of the two-story structure at 323 S. 5th Street, continues Diller, includes “increasing student spacing, but also putting in a new roof and new windows.”

The building is also getting an upgrade of its heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems, as well as making its restrooms, walkways, and ramps more Americans with Disabilities compliant.

But if the updating in any way seems painstaking to onlookers, it’s because the Clayton High School is an historic treasure.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rodriguez

Built in the mid-1930s and officially dedicated in the fall of 1937, the building is part of a 7-acre, 4-block campus put up by the Works Progress Administration and designed by New Mexico architect Willard Kruger in the Mission Spanish Revival style.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rodriguez

Construction of the school, as recorded in The Dust Bowl, a companion book to a Ken Burns PBS documentary, included stone that was “quarried and cut for the building; the lumber was cut and sawn nearby.”

Rugs and drapes for the school were made up of wool clipped from area sheep and colored with dyes that came from local plants.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rodriguez

More than 60 years after the school opened its doors, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Funded through $7.9 million in general obligation funds, work on the structure, which has now served four generations of students, began last summer and is expected to wrap this coming December.

Other bond work at Clayton includes classroom renovations, security upgrades, ADA restroom improvements and a new teacher’s lounge at the Clayton Junior High at 224 Spruce Street; and a new roof, updated heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems, as well as enhanced security for the Alvis Elementary School at 404 Aspen Street.

“The idea is to provide a more secure access and entry point for the students and parents,” says Diller of the Alvis work,” so that we are better able to lock the facility down and make sure we have more jurisdiction over who does and who doesn’t come into that building.”

The Clayton Municipal Schools facility work plays out against a backdrop of steady enrollment for a district that currently has around 480 students total.

“That number is down since around 2009 by about 80 kids,” notes Diller. Heading into this academic year, the district has just over thirty teachers and an overall staff of about seventy people.

The enrollment decline reflects the trends of Clayton itself, which has seen its population, according to the U.S. Census, decrease from 2,980 in 2010 to just over 2,700 last year.

Located in the upper northeast corner of New Mexico, the city is often described as a waystation for travelers who are heading into either Texas or Oklahoma.

“There is less agricultural employment here than there used to be, and that is one of the biggest reasons for people having moved out,” says April Gallegos, the executive director of the Clayton-Union County Chamber of Commerce.

“The next largest employer is the schools, and after that it would probably be the detention center,” adds Gallegos.

That facility is officially called the Northeast New Mexico Detention Center, located some 4 miles southeast of Clayton, which employs around 100 people in the Clayton area.

Diller says that the city and school’s smallness are not without their advantages.

“Our teachers have a little bit more personal opportunities to interact with the kids and build stronger relations with them,” she says.

“We pretty much know what is going on with kids, for the most part, at any time,” Diller adds, “and that’s a good thing.”


By Garry Boulard

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