In 1942, George Enyeart began classes as a first-grader at a large, stately brick building on Harris Street in Breckenridge, the county’s first K-12 schoolhouse. He would graduate from the same building in 1954, one member of a class of only 16 seniors.
Nearly 60 years later, Enyeart was among several dozen locals, elected officials and historians who gathered on the front lawn of the old schoolhouse Saturday to watch Breckenridge Mayor John Warner and County Commissioner Thomas Davidson swing sledge hammers to mark the start of a renovation project on the historic building and the next chapter in its now more than 100-year life.
Crews are breaking ground today on a $7.4 million restoration of the aging structure, which will be redesigned to house a community center, movie theater and the south branch of the library.
It is the largest redevelopment project in Summit County’s history.
“Just over 100 years ago, our forefathers built this building, a dedication to public education,” Davidson told the group who gathered for the project kick off ceremony Saturday morning. “We’re lucky we have the opportunity to give this building a rebirth for the next 100 years. (It was) built in the last century, but it’s really going to be a 21st century facility.”
The interior of the building will be almost completely redone, with the exception of certain historic aspects of the structure, such as the original gymnasium floor, which will be preserved. In the basement, the Speakeasy, Breckenridge’s only movie theater, will be remodeled and updated facility to allow the cinema to continue to operate with digital projection. There will also be a kitchen facility on the bottom level of the building, as well as community meeting space.
The upper levels will house the new library — which will feature a children’s room, quiet reading space and a coffee shop — as well as an area showcasing local historic artifacts.
The town of Breckenridge is partnering with the county government, the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, the Summit County library board and private partners and donors to cover the bill for the renovation. A fundraising committee has so far come up with close to $700,000 to help pay for the project.
“It was built in 1909, and it was a community venture. Miners, shopkeepers and business owners got together and created this school, this multi-purpose building,” Warner said Saturday. “I think we’re doing that again here in 2013.”
A schoolhouse teaches history
By the end of the 19th century, the growing student population in the south end of Summit County was overwhelming the tiny one-room log-house school that had been built in 1871. A new building was constructed at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Harris Street in 1882, but the town soon outgrew its four classrooms as well.
In 1908, 57 voters agreed to allow the town to use a $20,000 bond to construct a much larger schoolhouse that could accommodate the county’s needs. Only two people voted against the measure. Work began on the building in the fall of the same year, and members of the community were invited inside for the first time in February of 1909, according to a history compiled by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
Students from all over Summit attended the new school, because it was the only one in the area that offered high school classes and the opportunity to earn a diploma. Some students came from distant mining towns like Montezuma, which at the time were a full-day’s trip away, and boarded in Breckenridge.
The school welcomed 13 high schoolers and 139 elementary students, who were taught by a total of six teachers that first year.
In 1921, as growing attendance again began to put pressure on the building, voters approved a $35,000 bond to construct an addition which housed a swimming pool, auditorium and the gym. It was the first school in Colorado to have a swimming pool, Enyeart said. There was a diving board, but he said in his day that wasn’t enough of a plunge for some of the boys, who would climb up and jump from the rafters.
Enyeart’s older sister was a teacher at the school during the years he attended, and they both also lived with his parents.
“I never got away with anything,” he said, laughing.
He, along with every other boy in school, went out for the basketball team, the only sport offered at the time. In the 1950s, the principal was also the coach and he welcomed them all.
“He said, ‘You guys just come on out and we’ll make room,’” Enyeart remembered. “So we had little guys, big guys, and we belonged to a league where we were the only C-class school. We played Kremmling and Walden.”
Generations of Summit County students continued to be educated on Harris Street until 1961, when cracks were discovered in the foundation, the building was condemned and the children moved to a new facility in Frisco.
The building sat empty for several years, until it was acquired by Breckenridge in the mid-1960s and became the town hall. The then-all volunteer fire department also relocated there around the same time. The police department, town clerk’s office and the town marshall all took up residence in the structure, as did the local library and drivers’ licensing bureau, according to the BHA’s history.
In 1977, Colorado Mountain College purchased the building for $300,000 and remodeled the interior. The project revealed several hidden gems, including a pressed-metal ceiling and arched windows with original glass and hand-carved woodwork. The gym was divided into classrooms, the basement became a movie theater and eventually students returned to the old schoolhouse.
The building continued to serve as the CMC Breckenridge campus until 2010, when the college relocated to its current facility on the north side of town.
Breckenridge officials again purchased the building in 2010, calling it a community treasure that needed to be preserved.
But it was an aging treasure, buried under needed improvements that were anticipated to cost millions of dollars. In the meantime, town leaders were unsure what to do with the building.
“There was a lot of thought that went into what was going to happen with this building,” said former Breckenridge Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, who spoke at Saturday’s ceremony. “There was thought banded about maybe a town hall, there was thought banded about condominimumizing it early on, we thought maybe local housing. But I don’t think there’s a better use for this building than a library.”
Last year, the county government was preparing to construct a new library building off Airport Road to replace the current facility, which officials say is no longer large enough to meet the community’s needs.
They approached the town to ask for financial support with the project and received an unexpected response.
Members of the town council at the time were willing to help build a library, but they didn’t want a new building. They wanted to recover an old one and place the library there. Town officials saw it as an opportunity to restore the old schoolhouse on Harris Street, make it a hub for the community and to split the cost of the project with the county government, which was already prepared to invest a few million dollars in a new facility.
There were some in Breckenridge who opposed the project due to the steep cost, but the county approved the plan.
The project is slated for completion by the fall of 2014.
Structurally, the building has weathered the years well, and is eligible for inclusion in the state and national historic registers, according to documents from the BHA.
“We’re lucky we have the opportunity to give this building a rebirth for the next 100 years. (It was) built in the last century, but it’s really going to be a 21st century facility.” County Commissioner Thomas Davidson