Page 14 - Focus Regional: History & Mystery
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Lisa Nell Robinson, a former educator, has good memories from Abo
                                                                Elementary. Her mother, Shirley Nell, taught there for 14 years, and her dad,
                                                                Warren Nell, was Superintendent of Artesia Public Schools for 16 years.
                                                                Robinson remembers going on tours of Abo with her dad as he showed
                                                                prospective new Artesians the unique school. One of her memories is of
                                                                going into Mrs. Helen Mapes’ second grade classroom where she displayed
                                                                a larger than life-size papier mache dinosaur. She thought, “It (the dinosaur
                                                                and the classroom) was so cool. And I loved to go on tours of Abo with my
                                                                Dad.” Later in life, Mrs. Mapes’ second grade classroom became Robinson’s
                                                                own classroom. Robinson believes that the quiet environment helped the
                                                                students to achieve and excel in academics. Many other teachers who taught
                                                                at Abo agree and add that the lack of windows alleviated the distraction of
                                                                watching outside or watching friends in the hallways.

                                                                Construction of the underground school and fallout shelter cost $468,623,
                                                                and the American Civil Defense Administration contributed $131,943.
                                                                The American Civil Liberties Union tested new construction technologies
                                                                and experimented with new educational forms and functions, one of which
                                                                was the partnership with Artesia Public Schools to build the underground
                                                                school. The 10-acre construction went 18 feet underground with
                                                                21–inch–thick concrete walls and a slab which later became a playground
                                                                and dodgeball court.
                                                                The rectangular plan included 28 rooms with only 18 being used for
                                                                classrooms. The remaining rooms were used as storage, restrooms, and
                                                                for mechanical equipment of the building. Students entered at the South
                                                                stairwells, while teachers entered from the North end. Former Abo teacher
                                                                Judith Williams Horton (Judy Brown) commented that the school was
                                                                the perfect design for an elementary school. She said that the U shape
                                                                of the school allowed one to go from one side of the school to the other
                                                                without going around the halls. Students and teachers could walk through
                                                                the restrooms, library, or cafeteria to get to the other classrooms. Judith
                                                                remembers that the classrooms were designed with chalkboards that were
                                                                reversible to pegboards. There were also other pegboards in the classrooms
                                                                so that the students’ work could be displayed. She also felt that there was a
                                                                “serenity about being in that underground building and it seemed that the
                                                                students felt it, secure and settled.”

     PHOTO ABOVE:   A group of children stand at ground level and watch as   Not only were there traditional entrances for students and teachers,
     construction takes place on the underground school.        one entrance existed that included a shower to remove fallout particles.
                                                                There were other rooms and areas which housed rations such as water,
           atomic age and the proximity of Alamogordo, Walker Air Force Base in   crackers, dried/powdered/canned food and other personal items such as
           Roswell, and the vulnerability of the refinery just a few miles away from   toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels and washcloths, combs, notebooks and
           the school site. As students spent the first few months in school, political
           tension in America grew because of the Soviet Union’s connection in the
           Cuban Missile Crisis. Students participated in regular bomb drills. Just the
           presence of the school as a bomb shelter seemed to somewhat calm the fear
           of the community about a nuclear attack.

           The dedication of Abo Elementary School and Fallout Shelter took place
           on June 12, 1962 with the Director of the Office of Civil Defense, Steuart
           L. Pitman reading a telegram from President John F. Kennedy. All the major
           television networks covered the ceremony, as well as international media.
           The Soviet newspaper, Trud, commented, “The madness which has hit
           the U.S. has even touched those working in the field of public education,
           the people of Artesia like to play war.” Some newspapers in the U.S. also
           criticized Artesia for sending children underground to school in a shelter,
           while criticizing the endeavor as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Little did
           these naysayers know, the atmosphere actually spelled success for students
           thanks to things only an underground school can provide – controlled light
           and air, and a calm, quiet learning environment.

   14        FOCUS ON HISTORY & MYSTERY   |   2017
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