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One-room schoolhouse at museum getting an overhaul

March 31, 2019

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) — A volunteer’s determination matched the Museum of the Great Plains’ vision for the restoration of the old one-room Blue Beaver School No. 61.

On the fenced grounds east of the museum building rests the old school along with the Agricultural Shed, the Elgin Depot and, of course, the Red River Trading Post, have made for many a well-remembered school field trip for local and state students through the years. It’s Judy Odom’s wish for a return of student activity to the grounds by May.

With that, Odom took to the fundraising trail for the refurbishment of the schoolhouse. She said it began when she was at a meeting at the museum and Executive Director John Hernandez was speaking. She noticed the museum had undergone a $4 million remodel/revamping on its inside, but the outside was hurting and no funds were available.

Needs overcame funds available. Exposure to the Oklahoma elements has taken its toll on the popular exhibits.

“That just really resonated with me,” Odom said to The Lawton Constitution. “I decided I was going to do something about it.”

She said her children and grandchildren have always loved the exhibits and she knows that it’s been a popular attraction for school field trips for many years. It’s offered a break from technology and allows them a place to be “free to play and imagine and to dream,” she said.

Calls went out and before long, Odom said, First Liberty National Bank donated to fix the roof. Then James Hardiboard was contacted and they graciously consented to donate the siding for the schoolhouse project. Next First National Bank stepped up to replace all of the rotting windows with historically correct wooden windows, she said. Sherwin Williams donated the final piece of the project with the paint to help keep the building historically correct.

Now, a crew from Bordelon Enterprises is hard at work at making some needed repairs. Job foreman Ray Bordelon said it’s fortunate the weather’s been amendable to the repairs and work is going pretty quickly.

“There’s a lot going on,” Odom said.

Six rotted, wooden windows are being replaced with double sash windows that, although Odom said, “they’re exactly the look of what they’re taking out,” are made of modern materials that will weather any storm. It’s also being completely resided and then covered in Duration Paint that’s built to last. The final stage will include a complete reroofing.

It’s about time. The Blue Beaver School No. 61 was built between 1901 and 1902 and opened on Oct. 13, 1902. It operated as a school until 1938 and later served as a meeting spot for the Blue Beaver community 12 miles southwest of Lawton. The building was donated in 1999 by Karol and Howard Wayne Haney and it was moved to the museum grounds in February 2000.

Odom said the school has been a popular part of the Christmas on the Prairie program put on by the museum. After being suspended due to the school’s condition, she said she’s excited for that event to resume this Christmas. The work on the school building should be completed in the coming weeks. This means students may soon return to learn its lessons.

“There is money available to pay for area school classes to book the one room schoolhouse for a day of experiencing firsthand what Oklahoma students decades ago knew as school,” she said.

Next, fundraising to restore the Red River Trading Post will become the top priority. Hernandez said that two block houses are becoming unstable and activities inside the structures have been suspended. Home to a living history teaching program, it’s unsafe to be inside structures basically held together with baling wire, he said.

Hernandez helped build the trading post in 1982 and it was built to the original design of a frontier structure.

“They’re only meant to last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “It’s almost made it 40 years, it’s about time.”

The refurbishing of the wood structure will be made, like the schoolhouse project, to keep it looking authentic but also to be “built to last,” Hernandez said. With the wind as it’s been the past few months and as Oklahoma expects, it’s going to have to be structurally strong and sound.

The museum’s most popular attraction, the trading post is intended to be home to a hands-on learning environment. Its reputation has caused the Museum of the Great Plains to be contacted by larger museums for advice and information on how to do it right.

“It’s a hands-on museum,” Hernandez said. “That was exactly the intention, to make a hands-on experience.”

Odom sees the trading post offering a future opportunity that contains its past intent.

“My vision of that as a trading post is for Native American students and non-Native American students can come together,” she said. “I see a wonderful chance to interact together and learn from one another.”

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Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com