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Facing closure, Wasson High steeped in history

January 22, 2013
photo - The Gazette file
The Gazette file  

Wasson High School is the not the oldest campus in Colorado Springs School District 11, but it has a rich history.

“It’s a legacy,” said Barry Reid, co-chairman of the Wasson Alumni Association. “We’re talking 53 years of history.”

The high school, targeted for closure at the end of the school year, was built in 1959 on what had been the Colorado Bird and Game Farm at 2115 Afton Way. Plans called for “buff colored brick and quartz aggregate panels on the outside walls and structural steel framework,” according to a district history by Harriet Seibel.

The $3.1 million building included three academic wings, gymnasiums, shops, an auditorium, a kitchen and a cafeteria. The 72 classrooms were to accommodate 2,000 students.

“Wasson was built to simulate a college campus with five wings,” Reid said. “When Wasson opened, the kids called it ‘the country club on the hill.’”

It was named after a D-11 superintendent who arrived in Colorado Springs in 1923. Roy J. Wasson taught at several schools before taking the helm of the growing district.

He served from 1942 to 1963, when the enrollment in the district more than doubled. The district had 9,000 students when he took over, and more than 21,000 students when he retired, Reid said. Schools in the 1960s had a hard time keeping up with the need generated by explosive growth in the region.

When Wasson was built, an additional $330,000 was spent on the adjacent athletic field used by all D-11 schools. It was renamed Garry Berry Stadium in 1974, in honor of the district director of Health and Physical Education. Berry was in that post from 1946 to 1972.

The stadium has hosted countless games, and was the site of graduation ceremonies as well until the district moved them to the World Arena in 1998. Officials moved the ceremonies because the chance for cold and wet weather in May was deemed too great.

In 2003, the school board approved the installation of synthetic turf at a cost of about $610,000. The tennis courts were replaced the same year. The all-weather track was replaced in 2010.

Missy Doty, 36, has many memories tied to Wasson athletics. She remembered the bonfires on the practice field for homecoming every year, and laughed when recalling the time the pom-pom squad kidnapped the football team for breakfast.

“It was a big student body when I attended,” she said, although the campus at the time only served grades 10 through 12.

Wasson is a big part of family history for Doty, class of 1991. Her sister graduated in 1998. Doty’s daughter graduated in 2011.

She also has ties to early Wasson history: Her grandfather was the first choir director at the school, and he wrote the alma mater. Some think he also wrote a second fight song that has since been lost, she said.

“There’s a lot of memories and a lot of personal investment,” Doty said.

As the experiences of students and staff at the school have changed over the years, so has the campus.

A winter flood in the late 1970s destroyed gymnasium floors, so the facilities were remodeled into what eventually was dubbed the Thunderdome.

Some of the shop spaces have been updated and include recording studios, art and pottery workshops and a computer-assisted design studio. The dance studio addition was done in 1999.

An open courtyard was transformed into a small “black box” theater. A garden, pond and greenhouse were added in the 1990s. The automotive program at Wasson brings together students and members of the local Model A club.

Senior class and alumni gifts have added to Wasson. The class of 1977 gift was a sign facing northwest toward Afton Way and Patrician Way with the school name, in which the “J” was actually carved as a “U” and had to be corrected, Reid said.

The Thunderbird statue at Afton and Constitution Avenue was welded and placed by the alumni association in the 1990s. A scoreboard and sporting equipment also were given to the school.

If the D-11 board approves the administration’s recommendations, the high school will close in May, but the building will become home to a host of alternative adult and youth programs.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina

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The high school was recommended for closure in 2009 and again this year. Formal administration recommendations to close Wasson and reopen it as a campus for alternative programs will be presented to the school board at a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the administration building, 1115 N. El Paso St. The district also recommends closing Lincoln and Bates elementary schools.

A board vote on the recommendations is expected Feb. 6.



Year built: 1959

Square footage: 251,236

Campus size: 28.2 acres

Capacity: 1,862



2008 — 1,241

2009 — 1,098

2010 — 1,055

2011 — 916

2012 — 918



• Reporter: Watching childhood schools close a sad affair.

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