Girvin: Investing in Harris Street building is honoring community’s past
September 9, 2012
The big brick building on Harris Street in Breckenridge is one of our community’s most significant historic treasures; significant not just for the town of Breckenridge but for all of Summit County. It was built by the Masons with great skill to serve the people of Summit County for generations. But like any 104 year old, it needs some work so it can continue to serve the community today and into the future. I applaud the Breckenridge Town Council for agreeing to work with Summit County on a new library for the old building; it’s a perfect fit.
The sturdy structure was the pride of Summit County when it was built as the Breckenridge High School in the early 1900s. No longer did families have to send their teenagers to Denver for a secondary education. Though Breckenridge was far from the ranches in the Lower Blue and the growing towns of Frisco and Dillon, students would often stay over with Breckenridge families during the school week just to have the opportunity to continue their education past 10th grade.
In 1919, 10 years after it was built, the community invested in the Breckenridge High School once again, adding a gymnasium large enough for the wildly popular new sport called “basketball.” Elegant arched windows provided natural light for the high ceilings in the gym. Hardwoods were imported for the floor. Equally impressive was the natatorium in the basement (swimming pool), complete with lockers, showers and exercise room. Summit County was a progressive community and the Breckenridge High School was a crown jewel. It served as school, community center, and rec center, available for use by all.
In the 1960s with declining enrollment, the Summit School District abandoned the old Breckenridge High School and the building was turned into Breckenridge Town Hall and municipal uses. The vaulted expanse of the gymnasium was sliced into two floors and chopped up into offices. The Summit County Library occupied a small room in the northeast corner of the building. The Division of Motor Vehicles was also housed there. In the 1970s, I took my first driving test from the grumpy old man in the basement, and returned to the building a few months later to answer to my first traffic violation.
In early the 1980s, Breckenridge Town Hall moved to a new building on Ski Hill Road and the nascent Colorado Mountain College system got its start in the old Breckenridge High School. Offices were turned into classrooms. The swimming pool became a theatre, and more recently was re-purposed as the Speakeasy Movie Theatre.
As CMC, it was still a community building, available for the curious to wander the halls, contemplate the old photos on the walls, admire the sturdy architecture, get a sense of history, take classes, attend a lecture, see a movie, and learn to dance. The floor of the old gymnasium survived the remodels; the painted lines for the free throw lanes are still visible on the classroom floors.
Colorado Mountain College moved to a new campus in Summit County and uses for the old brick building were proposed. Ideas included affordable housing, Breckenridge Town Hall offices, and a private school.
But none of those potential uses would allow access by the public. Only the people who lived there, officed there, or went to school there would be able to enjoy and experience the historic building that was intended for community use.
That’s why a new library is a perfect fit for the stately old building. It will continue as a community center, conveniently located and open to all in service to the people of Summit County. A new library presents an opportunity to commemorate our past while moving into the 21st century.
As the new library, I am pleased that the gymnasium will be restored to its original dimensions. The two floors of offices will be removed and the high arched windows will once again light the airy space. The bricked-over windows on the west wall will reveal their historic views of the Tenmile Range.
The building will be more than a library. It will offer a remodeled theatre, meeting spaces, kitchen, and other community programming. Remodeling and restoring the historic building will also provide opportunities to bring it into the 21st century with new infrastructure and technology, possibly even with solar panels on the huge south-facing roof.
Investing in the future of the old Breckenridge High School is also honoring our community’s past. Years from now people will look back to today and thank the leaders of Breckenridge and Summit County for their foresight, especially in these challenging economic times, to restore and repurpose this community asset and create a lasting legacy for future generations.
Leigh Girvin has served as a planning commissioner from 1992 to the present on various boards, including the Joint Upper Blue Master Planning Commission and the Town of Breckenridge and Countywide Planning Commissions. She is the former director of Summit Huts Association and has served as the executive director of Continental Divide Land Trust since 2002. She is a 40-year resident of Summit County.