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City revisits turning historic school into community center

February 27, 2022 GMT

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (AP) — Elected officials in Alamogordo have re-opened a discussion about rehabilitating and transforming into a community center the historic Dudley School, one of the oldest structures in the southern New Mexico city.

City commissioners heard a presentation about the $557,000 project during a recent meeting but did not take any immediate action to move the project forward.

The project had been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alamogordo Daily News reported.

“It’s an old structure and we want to save it and restore it. It’s the history of the people and everything that went on. That’s what’s important about the structure, not just the structure itself,” said Joe Lewandowski of the Tularosa Basin Historical Society.

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The Dudley School would not be the first rehabilitation project Lewandowski has undertaken. Lewandowski lent a hand to convert the former Plaza Hotel into the Tularosa Basin Museum of History.

While the Dudley School might look like it’s ready to collapse, Lewandowski said he’s been through the building and it’s in better shape than The Plaza when that project was taken on.

Under the proposal, repairs would be made to the southern exterior wall of the school where the adobe has eroded. The roof and the concrete foundation of the building do not need repairs.

Former classrooms would become exhibit areas and meeting rooms.

City Manager Brian Cesar told commissioners that more detailed information, including a closer look at the estimated cost of the project would be presented at a future meeting.

Originally known as the Maryland Street School, the Dudley School was built as a four-room schoolhouse in 1914. It served as a transition school for Hispanic students in first and second grade to learn English until the 1960s.

The school was renamed after Mary Josephine Burleson Dudley, who taught there from 1920 until her retirement in 1946.

Before New Mexico became a state in 1912, Alamogordo was two cities in one: Alamogordo and Chihuahua.

While researching segregation in Alamogordo, Lewandowski found that there were dividing lines across the small community. Hispanics could not go north of 10th Street or into the Plaza Bar and the Plaza Cafe. African Americans could go in the back door of the Plaza, which was then was a storeroom, he said.

“That wasn’t unusual for anywhere at that time ... in the 1930s,” Lewandowski said during a previous interview. “But the Apache could walk in the front door of the bar or the cafe at any time and have a seat.”

Alamogordo Public Schools desegregated in 1949 when the late Bobby Joe Fritz was allowed to play football at Alamogordo High School. His graduating class of 1950 was the first desegregated graduating class. Fritz died in 2021 at age 89.