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A Summit County School Of Yesterday, Reborn As A Library Of Today

Construction crews are scrambling to finish the restoration of the 1909 school house in Breckenridge. The school is being turned into a library and community center in the heart of the small resort town.

Its official name will be the Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center and Summit County South Branch Library - a mouthful by any standard. However, folks in the area have started to simply call it the "BGV Center."

"So this is not something that’s seen as just for Breckenridge. This is something that’s seen for all of Summit County, everybody has given to it," said Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson.

That's the case for the funding of the ambitious $9 million project, which has come from across Summit County. Leah Arnold, capital coordinator for the project, said there is a great need for a new library and community center for Breckenridge closer to the town's center.

"Our library in Breckenridge, even though it’s the smallest of the three branches in Summit County, it is the most visited," Arnold said.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
The school's former gymnasium will now be the main reading area of the South Branch library.

While that seems counterintuitive with the rise of e-books, Arnold believes people are craving public spaces for interaction, and for a sense of community.

The aging historic building has been many things since opening in 1909.

Used as a school through the early 1960s, it has also housed the town marshal’s living quarters, the police department, drivers licensing bureau and was home to a number of private businesses.

Soon it will house several nonprofits, a movie theater, large meeting space, plenty of nooks and crannies for reading as well as dedicated rooms for different age groups, and even a coffee shop.

The bones of the 105-year-old structure are solid, said Graham Johnson with Spectrum General Contractors, but there have been unique challenges.

"In some places in this building we pulled out three or four layers of the walls where the walls had been [built] out multiple times," Johnson said. "And so a lot of times it [was] easier to add a layer and cover something up."

And what we’ve done here, and the way the architects have designed this building, is we pretty much went back to step one.”

In doing so, Johnson and his company uncovered things like a quirky wiring trick possibly done by the school’s janitor in 1932, and found the exact point where the gymnasium and pool building, constructed in 1921, connected to the original building. A window and uncovered brick found there will be a restored focal point next to a new fireplace on the library's mezzanine.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

The newer section, the school’s former gymnasium, is a massive open space. Sunlight floods in through large restored multi-paned windows, large wooden tresses tower overhead.

"There will be big cozy chairs there and as you can see there are these huge windows looking out onto the incredible mountain views," Arnold said. "That will be a really inviting place for people to come and spend time. We’ve built out plenty of plugs for everyone to have their devices functioning while they’re here."

Assistant Project Manager Graham Johnson said the trend toward reusing old buildings to create these innovative public places, instead of starting from scratch, is really for multiple reasons.

"You know, the way historic buildings are appreciated now a lot of the things that were more recently not appreciated about them; some of the natural ventilation and other design elements that were built into them originally that got covered up, are really green things and that’s such a buzz now that it makes a lot of sense both accurate historically as well as building performance wise," Johnson said.

Expected to open by the end of 2014, project managers hope the finished project will bring a 21st century library to the Breckenridge town center and Summit County. It’s their hope it will become the hub of the town, not only getting people into the library, but also to stay and hang out.

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