GUNNISON—Five years ago, the old Gunnison Valley Elementary School building was going unused, but a large family has given the old halls and classrooms new life.
Clark and Verena Flake originally purchased the building as a reunion site for their family who are spread across the country, but eventually they realized it suited them as something more. Now, the couple and seven of their 10 children live in the building as their home. They moved there in 2018.
“It’s just been a fun family project. It’s been fun to work together with our kids,” Clark Flake says of the gradual process of making bedrooms out of classrooms, a garden out of the playground and other adaptations.
He says they have not done any major renovations or remodeling, but have simply found creative ways to turn an idea into a practical and fun reality.
“We have tons of fun in the gym,” he says. “The commercial kitchen is great for preparing food for a lot of people. We usually put up a big projector on the stage and watch a movie. We sleep on the roof sometimes and watch the stars. We just have fun.”
The Flakes used to live on a farm near Oak City. Clark, a developer, owns a ranch in Ephraim and was working on a property in Redmond, so the family decided to move into the elementary school for what they thought at first would be a temporary stay.
After making friends in the Gunnison community and finding perks in having the extra space, the family settled into the school building for good.
For example, one of Clark’s brothers and his family are able to live there while they build a home in Gunnison. Clark’s nephew is also staying there temporarily. And, as originally intended, the building can easily accommodate family members who visit from Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Idaho and Colorado.
The youngest of the Flake children is three, and the oldest is 22. Three of them have moved out, but with all the rooms in the building, their parents say they will have a room whenever they might visit.
The garden out back is large and produces more than they can eat. They have given away peppers, tomatoes, melons, squash and corn, to name a few items, from past harvests.
The building came with a commercial-sized kitchen and a smaller one, which helps feed the families. Along with the big garden, the Flakes have chickens and a cow, Joseppi, which produces their milk.
Also in the backyard, where plenty in the Gunnison Valley community can recall playing during recess are a zip line, tetherball, a rope swing and, possibly to come in the future, a small carnival-style ride.
The Flakes are enjoying their home, especially living on their own terms.
“It’s fun to have buildings like this available in the private sector as opportunities to do something creative with,” the father and developer says about repurposing old buildings in innovative ways.
He says he finds it rewarding to get to put a building that could have otherwise gone to waste to good use.
“In Europe, they have buildings that are 1,500 years old. They’re precious and taken care of as best as they can,” he says. “Here in America, many are torn down after 50 to 75 years. If we keep tearing them down, we won’t have any old buildings.”
Overall, he says the pros are the fun and comfort of the place, as well as the practicality. Those notions would be tough to dispute, given the indoor gym fit for dodgeball and movie nights, a roof fit for stargazing or pre-prom dinners, and the bell that they use to announce dinnertime.
But Clark says there is a downside.
“It’s a ton of work to keep it clean,” he says. “We try to spend Saturdays going around to clean and pick everything up. It’s a big job.”
The new Gunnison Valley Elementary School building opened in 2010. In the time before the Flakes moved in, the old one was only used here and there as a private academy, spook alley and, on at least one occasion, amateur-film set.
Thanks to the Flakes, it is now a full-time home to Gunnison Valley children and adults who foster an environment for growth once again.