County: Kit Carson County
Date Constructed: 1938-1941
Built by: WPA
The rectangular-plan gymnasium measures 137’ x 70’. The gymnasium is two-stories tall, with a balcony level above the main gym floor. There is a full basement. The building has a reinforced concrete footing, foundation, and skeleton. WPA-made concrete blocks form the curtain walls and partitions. Adobe blocks are used for some of the basement partition walls. Stucco covers the exterior walls. The gymnasium is covered with a wood truss barrel roof; it is covered with asphalt roll roofing. Flat roofs cover the west and east ends of the building where the lobby and stage are located.
The concrete exterior is demarcated by wide horizontal bands and engaged pilasters that extend slightly above the parapet roof; low-relief horizontal ridges mark the raised foundation. A horizontal fluted band crowns the pilasters. Windows are set within the recessed panels between these pilasters. The recessed panels above the entrances and at the third bay from the corners on the north and south sides are topped by an Art Deco-inspired ziggurat crenellation. A chevron detail tops most of the recessed panels. The pilasters feature rough textured stucco while the recessed panels have a smooth stucco finish. Identical entrances are located at either end of the west elevation, each with double metal doors reached by a flight of concrete stairs flanked by tall paneled concrete piers. A marquee over the northernmost entrance is of cantilever design on reinforcing rods. A metal canopy connects the southernmost entry door with the elementary school (c. 1965) on the west.
The Burlington Gymnasium meets Criterion A in the area of Social History for its association with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative agenda to rescue the United States from the Great Depression. This agenda included the creation of an unprecedented number of policies, programs, and agencies to provide relief, employment, conserve natural resources, and assist in construction of public works—all with the greater goal of stimulating the devastated economy. Constructed by the WPA, the Burlington Gymnasium presents an important record of the federal relief programs administered in Colorado’s eastern plains during the Great Depression. The construction of the gymnasium provided much-needed employment in Kit Carson County. The New Deal construction programs emphasized projects providing civic, educational, and health benefits for a community. During these difficult times, New Deal agencies also recognized the psychological benefits of recreational and cultural activities. It was also significant as the only extant work-relief construction project remaining from the New Deal era in Burlington.
The Burlington Gymnasium also meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Entertainment/ Recreation. This community building is a good example of the efforts of the WPA to boost moral during the Depression through the construction of buildings that the entire community could enjoy. Burlington residents attended school-sponsored activities in the building such as basketball games and music performances as well as activities sponsored by city groups such as dances. It was the first large, multi-use gymnasium and auditorium space in Burlington.
Additionally, the Burlington Gymnasium meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Education. Educational facilities were a major focus of New Deal construction and a combination auditorium/gymnasium was a common New Deal project. The WPA created a much needed modern facility for the Burlington School district providing a gymnasium with a full-size court, a stage for use by school theater and music groups, a kitchen and dining hall, meeting rooms, and a residence for a custodian. The gymnasium served the high school until 1965 and then served the elementary school until 1999, holding physical education classes, athletic events, school theater and music productions, and school dances.
The Burlington Gymnasium meets Criterion C in the area of Architecture. It is a good example of the Art Deco style as applied to a WPA gymnasium building. Built during the Depression, funds for ornamentation were limited, especially since the WPA wanted to spend as much of the project funds as possible on labor and as little as possible on materials. Unlike more elaborate Art Deco buildings that feature terra cotta ornamentation, all of the decoration on the gymnasium is executed in concrete. The building is very geometric with pilasters creating a vertical emphasis and incised horizontal lines creating an opposing horizontal emphasis. Chevron and ziggurat designs decorate the cornice. The gymnasium is a good example of the New Deal gymnasiums constructed by the WPA in northeastern Colorado. Concrete construction and modern styling predominated in the northeast, unlike the stone buildings in rustic and revival styles that predominated in the southeast.
Gymnasiums were among the most popular New Deal projects on Colorado’s eastern plains. Among the communities receiving new gymnasiums were Hugo, Stratton, Haxtun, Kim, Holly, Akron, Fleming, Otis, Branson, and Hoehne. Most of these communities had limited gymnasium facilities previously, often too small for a regulation basketball court. The new gymnasiums allowed school districts to improve their physical education instruction and host games. The gymnasiums constructed also typically included a stage at one end of the playing court so that they could serve a dual purpose as auditoriums, providing a performance space for school theater and music performances. The gymnasiums also included dressing rooms, restrooms, and often a classroom or two. However, the gymnasiums were not just for student use. These buildings also served as community centers (they were often the largest public building in a community), holding a variety of celebrations, dances, and other community activities. The intention that the Burlington Gymnasium serve the community is shown in the fact that the school board officially designated it as the “Community Center Building.”
In January 1938, the Burlington Board of Education decided to pursue a WPA project for a new gymnasium and auditorium for Burlington. At this time, the district’s gymnasium was located in the basement of the high school. Small with a low ceiling, it was inadequate for school needs. The school also needed a larger stage and auditorium and space for music classes, and the town needed a space for community gatherings. The school district submitted a WPA project application on January 12, 1938. The application called for a 131’ x 70’ gymnasium with a full basement. The project cost was $46,998 with $35,808 of that in federal funds and the remainder from the school district. The majority of the district’s $11,190 match was for materials and supplies ($9310) and equipment rental ($780). The building was to be constructed with a structural frame of reinforced concrete filled with adobe bricks. The adobe would then be covered with 2” of concrete. The WPA used this construction technique in several other gymnasiums in eastern Colorado including Branson, Hoehne, and Thatcher. Adobe construction was popular on WPA projects in eastern Colorado since it was labor intensive but materially cheap, fitting the WPA’s goal to spend most of its funds on employment and very little on materials.
Though it was a government-sponsored project, the Burlington Board of Education took an active role in the construction of the gymnasium, ensuring they received the gymnasium they wanted. When deciding to submit the project proposal to the WPA, the board “reserved the right to alter the proposed plan of construction.” The Board also decided to study gymnasiums in eastern Colorado and Denver before approving plans for the building. The Board approved blueprints for the building on February 21, 1938 and selected the site just south of the main school building for the new gymnasium. An old shop building located on the school grounds would be removed, except for the office portion, which would be kept for a WPA headquarters. WPA workers salvaged lumber from the shop building, using it for forms for the new gymnasium.
In April 1938, upon the recommendation of the regional WPA supervisor L.E. Heggenberger, the board approved changing the infill of the walls from adobe blocks to concrete blocks. The adobe blocks already manufactured would be used for basement partition walls. The WPA crew would manufacture the concrete blocks. In September 1938, the board authorized changing the supporting pillars on the main level of the gymnasium from concrete posts to iron posts. The board also decided on finishes, including examining a selection of lighting types and choosing the flush lighting fixtures for the gymnasium and selecting maple flooring for the gymnasium floor and fir flooring for the stage.
Construction began in March 1938 with plans to complete the gymnasium by June 1939. With construction projected to last more than a year (and in actuality taking much longer than that), the gymnasium project was a significant source of employment in Burlington. Unskilled laborers were paid $40 per month. Carpenters, masons, and cement finishers were paid $55 per month. These laborers worked 110 hours per month. The plasterer, plumber, and electrician were paid $100 per month and the foreman $145.
Though still under construction, the gymnasium was first used in January 19, 1940 for a basketball game against Stratton. In the spring, the graduating class petitioned the school board for permission to graduate in the new building. By the spring of 1940, the project was more than half a year behind schedule and the school district had contributed an additional $9,360 over their original proposed sponsor’s match. Though the bulk of construction was complete, there was still work remaining. The school district submitted a second WPA project proposal for the completion of the gymnasium along with other school improvements. The project included plastering and laying a concrete floor in the gymnasium as well as leveling the football field, building a jumping pit, cinder runway, and cinder track, and constructing concrete curbs. The project cost was $6,192 with $5,322 of that in federal funds. The WPA approved the second project, and work on the gymnasium continued uninterrupted with the official closing date of the first project July 18, 1940, and the starting date of the second project July 19, 1940. The second project was completed on January 22, 1941.