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Report says Montana's rural schoolhouses endangered

By Eric Turcio, Reporter, eturcio@ktvm.com
Published On: Jun 19 2013 08:18:38 PM MDT
Updated On: Jun 19 2013 08:57:05 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

The National Trust for Historic Preservation says Montana's rural schools are at risk of being lost forever.

The National Trust and Montana Preservation Alliance announced historical sites named to the 2013 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The annual list highlights examples of the nation's architectural, cultural, and natural heritage that may be at risk for destruction or severe damage.

Community organizers point to the Little Bear School House, in the Gallatin Gateway, saying it is important to preserve the history of education in Montana.

Carol Chambers, the President of the Little Bear School House Museum, told us she has worked hard, raising thousands of dollars to help preserve the school.

"We just do everything, get vendors and set up the grounds," Chambers.

Chambers says she works along with three other women to trim trees and pull weeds on the Little Bear School House property. She told us her group is always raising money to pay for repairs to the school.

"Our canopy was $5,000 and our sidewalks cost nearly $4,000," she said.

Chambers says her mother, Helga Pinkerton, taught at the school back in 1943, when it was at its original location near Little Bear Creek. The school closed 1952 and was not used for awhile until 1989, when it was moved the present location on Gallatin Road.

Chambers told us the school was not in good condition.

"Windows were out. We had to redo the floor. There was a lot of reconstruction that had to be done," she said.

Currently, Little Bear School House is a museum and, in essence, helps long time residents connect with their past. Chambers says most people living in the area now could have attended elementary grades levels at the schoolhouse.

"Probably anyone that's lived in this area very long has some connection to this school," said Chambers.

National Trust for Historic Preservation representatives say the primary threat is  the lack of funding for upkeep of the schoolhouses in rural parts of Montana.

Chere Jiusto is the executive director for Montana Preservation Alliance. Jiusto told NBC Montana her organization has noticed this struggle for funding to the older schoolhouses.

"We've been finding more and more they really need help, the schools are  threatened and need a lot of repairs -- and stabilization," said Jiusto.  

Charlotte Caldwell is passionate about Montana's historic schools. Caldwell told us she has traveled to 56 counties to document one-room schools.

"These buildings really provide insight into our history and our culture. When they're gone, they're gone forever," said Caldwell.

Caldwell told us she thinks the endangered listing is a good thing, explaining it raises more positive awareness.

Chambers told NBC Montana her fight to keep Little Bear School House is deep within her bones.  

"It's my heritage and it's something I love. That's all there is to it," said Chambers.

America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has found more than 240 different historic buildings since 1988.