Life coming back to Stewart administrative building

By lunchtime Monday the floors were cleared inside the long-vacant - though not empty - administration building at the former Stewart Indian School.

A three-man prison crew and project manager Jeff Abbe hauled furniture and other debris that had piled up chest high in the large stone building, which sits near the campus entrance.

The morning haul filled up a 20-yard dumpster and started a small pile in a second dumpster, museum director Sheila Abbe said.

Even on the first day of major restoration work at Building No. 1 - the one adorned with a Stewart Indian School Museum banner - Abbe fielded calls left and right from people wanting to hold meetings there.

"This one was for July," said Abbe, ringing off from a call. "I'm starting to solicit meetings. I already have three or four meetings for a building that we just started work on today."

Cleaning house was the first step in a restoration project that could ultimately involve six buildings near the Stewart entrance: the occupied museum and trading post and the vacant administration building, the school's tiny post office, the former principal's cottage and a three-bay garage.

Except for the principal's cottage, Abbe expects to have five buildings ready for the public by spring, though she has yet to sign lease agreements for the post office, garage and cottage.

Abbe has a reputation for not letting obstacles stand in her way.

"This is the huge test," she said about the administration building work. "Everybody always said you can't have any more buildings until you get this one up. This legitimizes my asking for more buildings."

A federal Save America's Treasures preservation grant announced July 7 provided $250,000 for Abbe to launch this project, which is bolstered by a $93,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office. Other grants are pending, she said.

Abbe does not know what the restoration of Building No. 1 will cost, but she is confident that the cost will fall well within her budget. She said a partnership with the Nevada Department of Prisons will help keep costs down.

Between three and 12 inmates will work the project at any time. The prisoners are being recruited from prisons statewide based on database analysis of inmate skills, said state prison director Jackie Crawford.

This is the first partnership between the prison department and a nonprofit organization.

"I wanted to be a part of this," Crawford said. "I want to demonstrate to the community that we have a talented workforce and we want to make a contribution to the community. They are so proud they've been asked to do this."

Contract labor will do the electrical and roof work, but inmates will do related tasks, such as stripping paneling off the walls, which was done Monday.

Abbe intends to move her office from the museum to the restored administration building, which will also have a gallery, classrooms and a conference room on the verge of having a waiting list already.

The 30-by-40-foot conference room at the rear of the building could be ready for meetings by Christmas.

The 6,000-square-foot building will also give the museum its first dedicated space for classes.

"We have to move exhibits every time we do a class now," Abbe said.

Abbe is still negotiating lease agreements for the post office, principal's cottage and three-bay garage. The state Division of Lands owns the land and buildings at the renamed Stewart State Complex.

Abbe plans to fill the garage with an artisans-in-residence program. The 300-square-foot post office, alongside Stewart's main street, is perfectly situated to serve as a visitor information center.

"This is for the whole community," Abbe said.


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