Saturday, February 4, 2017

50 Years for Burlington, Niwot, and Erie Elementary Schools

The banners are up, three of the elementary schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) are all celebrating their 50 year anniversary this year.  Burlington, Niwot, and Erie Elementary Schools were effectively identical triplets, of the same design, all starting construction in 1966 by the same company, and all opened in 1967 with matching cornerstones (as you'll see in the pictures below).

Erie Elementary in Erie, Colorado

Niwot Elementary in Niwot, Colorado
Burlington Elementary in Longmont, CO

These schools were born out of severe overcrowding in the school district, a lot due to what was called the "IBM Effect" in the newspaper back then.  In 1965, IBM initiated the construction of a huge new campus on the Diagonal Highway between Boulder and Longmont.  The influx of new IBM employees (and the service industries to support them) saturated the local housing market and immediately overcrowded the schools in the district.  

In late 1965, voters approved a $3 million bond for the school district to address the urgent overcrowding issue.  Of that $3M, $2.2M of bonds were sold for immediate construction of three elementary schools and one junior high school (now Longs Peak Middle School).  With the estimates for the junior high at $1.2M, it was hoped that the three new elementary schools could be built with the remaining $1M.  

Robert Ditzen from Ditzen and Mueler of Boulder was chosen as the architect for the schools and at the August 4, 1966 SVVSD school board meeting, he was told by board President Art Stromquist (see his name on the Burlington plaque below), "You have the go ahead and hurry up", no doubt echoing the community concerns of worsening overcrowding where ten existing classrooms were being leased from two churches.

The winning construction bid came in at $1,269,666 for all three buildings from A. A. & E. B. Jones Co, of Denver which was somewhat over the hopeful $1M cost.  The board approved it anyway and gave Ditzen the green light to modify the design slightly if additional costs could be saved.  Ditzen told the board, "I feel we can negotiate some cost out without hurting the job" and also, "The real education comes inside with teaching.  Good teaching is better than a pretty building."

Other features of the three schools:
  • The buildings would be almost glassless, with one four-foot window in each classroom.
  • Each school would be 27,800 square feet.
  • A flexible classroom scheme was used that clustered four classrooms with no load-bearing walls between them, instead using folding walls that could be opened and closed. 
  • Each school was designed to hold 400-450 students.  Remember that these were K-6 schools back then, not K-5 like today.
  • February 1967 was the target completion date of the schools.  Six months to build three schools!
  • All had a one-year guarantee.

It's strange to think of schools opening mid-year but the overcrowding situation made that necessary.  It was reported that all attempts were made to keep students with the same teacher as they transitioned to the new schools.  Incidentally, SVVSD base pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree fifty years ago was $5300/year.

Erie Elementary:

Two other names were considered for the Erie School:
  • Erie Union (named after the first school in the area)
  • Valley View (for overlooking the Erie valley)
The District officially moved into Erie Elementary on Monday, March 13, 1967.  The school received its teachers and students from the existing Erie Lincoln and Canfield schools, and Ivan Adams was the principal of the new  school, also coming from Erie Lincoln.

Erie Elementary today:

Niwot Elementary

Unlike Erie and Burlington, there were never alternative names considered for the Niwot school.  Naming committee chairman Vernon Peppler said, "In a small town, the school helps identify the town.  The people of Niwot are very opposed to any other name."

Vic Rehwoldt was named principal of the new Niwot ES, coming from the old Niwot school.  A few students also came to Niwot from the old Burlington school and the Beasley School (This one is new to me, I need to look it up). [Edit February 19, 2017:  Beasley School article posted]

The Niwot school had one small deviation from the design of the other two schools:  a few steps had to be added in one of its hallways.

It was reported on March 9, 1967 that the move into Niwot and Burlington went well with a minimal amount of problems.  "I have never seen a move go as smoothly", reported architect Ditzen.   

Niwot Elementary today: 

Burlington Elementary

The other name that was considered for Burlington was "Southmoor Park Elementary" and a petition with 52 signatures was received in support of that name.  In the end, the Burlington name was chosen, given the history of the pre-Longmont Burlington village, and the name of the school (see picture below) it was replacing.

Carl Forgey was named principal of the new Burlington school and it drew students and teachers from five other schools, including the old Burlington school.  

Burlington Elementary today:

The old Burlington School is now the Longmont Buddhist Temple.  Occasionally I will run across people in Longmont that attended school here:

Each school has been expanded a few times in the last 50 years.

A year after the schools were built, two new classrooms each at Niwot and Burlington were constructed by closing in an existing area, at a cost of $22,000.  Even with three new schools and four additional classrooms, the district was not done playing catchup with the IBM Effect and they were still two classrooms short in 1968Portables or continuing to lease space from churches was being considered.

For Burlington, new classrooms were added in 2003 as the district went through another boom time.  Niwot had the exact same expansion, a year earlier I believe.

Before the expansion in May 2003:

 Let the construction begin!

Fifty years is a long time but if you're interested in the history of some of Longmont's much older elementary schools, take a look at these: