Future is cloudy for Goddard Middle School's old missile

Littleton school must bid farewell to symbolic rocket; longtime residents seek solution

Note: After this  article was published, Littleton Public Schools agreed to donate the missile to the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum. Read more here. 
After more than half a century, the towering missile that stands outside Goddard Middle School in Littleton is coming down, and longtime residents are hoping to save it from the scrapyard.
“It's a piece of history, and it's got a spot in a lot of people's hearts,” said Randy Trujillo, a 1971 graduate of Littleton Public Schools whose two grandchildren attend Goddard.
The 41-foot-tall Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile was installed outside Goddard when the school opened in 1968.
Now, as Littleton Public Schools prepares to renovate the school and expand the parking area, district officials say it's time for the missile to go.
“We're trying to bring the building up to 21st-century standards,” said Terry Davis, the district's director of operations. “Could we move the missile and put it elsewhere? Yes, but there's a huge cost associated with taking it apart and building a new foundation for it, and we'd rather prioritize that money toward safety, security and efficient facilities.”
Goddard is slated to undergo a $4.5 million renovation, Davis said, including building a secured vestibule at the entrance, and redoing the undersized front parking area where the missile sits.
LPS would happily donate the missile to anyone who can come up with money and a plan to move it, Davis said.
“We've got a tight budget and a time crunch, and I don't have funding to disassemble or transport it,” Davis said. “But we're always willing to partner with folks who have a plan.”
The missile needs to be out by early June, Davis said. If nobody comes up with a plan, it will be cut up and sold for scrap, he said.
Plenty of people have ideas. After Trujillo posted the news that the missile was slated for removal to a Facebook group for people with roots in Littleton, the response was swift.
In hundreds of comments, posters offered ideas regarding a new location for the missile: another park in Littleton, the Littleton Museum, Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum on the old Lowry Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Academy, or Englewood's Belleview Park — already home to a vintage MGM-13 MACE missile.
But at the moment, none of those entities are interested.
South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, which manages Littleton's parks, wasn't big on the idea.
“I've asked around, but I don't think we're so keen on it,” said South Suburban spokeswoman Jamie DeBartolomeis. “We haven't looked into the cost of moving and supporting it, and we've got plenty of budgetary needs of our own.”
Littleton Museum director Tim Nimz said while the missile is associated with a Littleton school, it doesn't otherwise have a Littleton connection, and wasn't built by Lockheed Martin or its predecessor Martin Marietta.
The City of Littleton isn't interested, either.
“I don't know where it could be relocated, and I imagine the cost would be quite expensive,” said city spokeswoman Kelli Narde.
Wings Over the Rockies, home to numerous Cold War relics, said the missile isn't up to their standards.
“We are delighted the rocket has fans and supporters who want to see it preserved,” said Chuck Stout, the museum's curator, in an email. Stout said he's visited the missile on several occasions, but said “unfortunately, its condition is too poor for it to be useful to our museum. I agree it would be a shame for it to be scrapped, but we don't have the resources to move, store, restore or display it.”
Englewood isn't biting either.
“Belleview Park will remain a one-missile attraction,” said city spokeswoman Ann Lauricello in an email.
A spokesman for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs said he was not aware of any desire to retrieve the missile.
One exception to the cavalcade of rejection was the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum.
“How big is it?” asked Shawn Kirscht, curator of the Pueblo museum, which is already home to a number of warbirds. “It's 41 feet? If we can split it in two, I've got a 20-foot trailer. I'll come get it.”
If the missile were to wind up in Pueblo, it would be a return of sorts — Dr. Ben Millspaugh, a former Littleton Public Schools science teacher, procured the missile as military surplus from the Pueblo Army Depot in 1968, Trujillo said.
Millspaugh saw the missile as a way to honor Dr. Robert Goddard, the school's namesake. Goddard was a pioneer of rocketry, who launched the first successful liquid-fueled rocket in 1926.
Millspaugh, in turn, was an inspiration to a generation of Littleton students, Trujillo said. Millspaugh still lives in Littleton, but was unavailable for comment.
The missile was installed at the school with pomp and circumstance in October 1968, with a ceremony featuring a speech by an Air Force colonel and a performance the Lowry Air Force Base band, according to old news clippings and records provided by LPS.
“It was a symbol of science and of American power,” Trujillo said.
It became a fixture of Goddard, and Trujillo said principals used to prank students by running an extension cord out to the rocket and telling kids they were going to launch the missile after school, then seeing who actually showed up.
If the Pueblo option doesn't work out, Trujillo said he's got a friend — a retired pilot and oilman with deep pockets who doesn't want to be identified — who would be happy to stick it in his yard.
“I just hope it gets saved,” Trujillo said. “We've lost so much history around here already, and this is worth preserving.”
goddard middle school, littleton public schools, terry davis, missile, david gilbert, littleton colorado


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