Updated: March 15, 2013 at 12:00 am
This is not your father’s school.
Inside the former Ivywild Elementary School, south of downtown Colorado Springs, two main-floor classrooms are being remodeled into a pub and tasting room for the Bristol Brewing Co., a popular Springs brewery. A stylish, oval-shaped bar and large windows will let customers look down to Bristol’s ground-floor brewhouse and fermentation cellar.
At the other end of the hallway, the former principal’s office is being made over into a coffee and cocktail bar — appropriately called The Principal’s Office.
A classroom is being renovated into the Old School Bakery, where pies, cakes and pastries will be made and sold; sausages will be made and other meats cured in another classroom, with items to be sold at the Bristol pub.
Across the hall, a gymnasium, where basketball backboards still hang, is being converted into a minicommunity center for meetings, business get-togethers, private gatherings and the like.
Welcome to the modern-day version of the nearly century-old Ivywild Elementary School.
The initial phase of a nearly 3-year-old transformation of the 20,000-square-foot school into a mixed-use, business and community center is nearly complete, and the revamped building — to be simply called the Ivywild School — is scheduled to open next month. A second phase — a greenhouse addition where recycled heat, water and spent grain from the brewing operation would be used to help grow food — might get underway next year.
The project was the vision of Bristol Brewery owner Mike Bristol, Blue Star restaurant owner Joe Coleman and building architect Jim Fennell. Their partnership bought the old school from Colorado Springs School District 11 and launched a makeover.
The project cost will total $4 million to $5 million, Bristol said, and includes the purchase of the school and 5.1 acres at 1604 S. Cascade Ave., the building’s renovation and construction of a north-side addition to house the brewing and fermenting operations.
But why a school, of all places?
In spite of changes to the building, it will continue to be a community gathering place and vital part of a close-knit neighborhood — essentially maintaining the role it had played for decades.
“One of the options was to just build a big metal building out in some industrial park off of Powers (Boulevard), or south of town or something,” Bristol said. “That would have been fine to crank out more beer. But it’s not really our style. We wanted to be part of something bigger. We wanted to be part of something more community oriented.”
Ivywild was one of seven elementary schools closed by District 11 in 2009 after years of declining enrollment. Ivywild had opened on its current site in 1916; additional wings were added to the building’s north and south ends in the 1950s.
Bristol Brewery and Blue Star opened in 1998 in the 1600 block of South Tejon Street, a short walk from the school. Coleman had purchased the Tejon Street building and leased space to Bristol for his brewery.
But the brewery, which sells its craft beers to restaurants, hotels and retailers, was outgrowing its site, where beer is brewed, bottled and shipped.
It would have been easier for Bristol to move to an industrial site — perhaps on South Academy Boulevard — and truck his beer elsewhere in town, Coleman said.
But when District 11 announced it would close the school, Coleman, Bristol and Fennell talked about buying the building, with Coleman pushing the idea of moving the brewery to the school.
“My first thought was, we’re in a very conservative community,” Bristol said of moving his business to the school. “This is an elementary school. We’re a brewery.”
Coleman, however, said residents wouldn’t welcome just any brewery at the school. But as a neighborhood business that local residents had come to embrace, Bristol Brewing could be the one.
Meanwhile, Coleman envisioned opening a bakery in the school, and later added the idea of selling coffee and meats. Fennell, the project’s architect, agreed to move to the school; his office also will house The Design Lab — an area where the public can learn about the various moving parts of the mixed-use project.
“We want to be here,” Coleman said. “I’m not saying we don’t want to be in Briargate. Maybe one day we will be. But I am saying this is where we are. We know this. We care about it. People in this neighborhood care about us.”
The project wouldn’t have worked without support from the neighborhood, Bristol said. One of their first actions was to meet with some area residents — over a beer, of course — and talk about their plan.
“If they weren’t behind it,” Bristol said, “then there’s no reason to spend a lot of time and effort trying to get this thing done. Not only were they not opposed to it, they were incredibly enthusiastic about it.”
As Bristol, Coleman and Fennell moved forward, a key element was to have the property designated as an urban renewal site, which would allow tax revenue generated by the project to be used to pay for site improvements.
The Springs City Council approved the urban renewal designation in 2011; a subsequent flap with the city’s Urban Renewal Authority over the fees the partnership would have to pay to cover the authority’s administrative costs related to the project was ironed out last year.
The urban renewal designation allowed the partnership to fund an excavation of the property west of the school. The excavation created space for construction of a warehouse and bottling building; beer brewed and fermented inside the school will travel to the building through a sophisticated underground piping system, Bristol said.
But most of the project spotlight is on the school, of which the Bristol Brewery Co. occupies about half.
The north-side addition houses a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient, German-made brewhouse and the 3,000-square-foot fermentation cellar, which could accommodate up to 13 fermentation tanks as the brewery expands, Bristol said.
In addition to the pub and tasting room, the main floor includes the 500-square-foot Wildcat Room, which can be used for private gatherings and serve as an overflow area from the pub. The room is linked to the pub, but can be closed off by a pair of heavy stainless steel doors recovered from the elephant house at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
The school also will house brewery offices, a walk-in cooler to store beer served in the pub, a maintenance shop, quality control lab and a ground-floor barrel room that will store aged beer and be available for special events.
Other portions of the school will house a variety of uses, including:
• The gymnasium, which includes a small, half-moon stage, can be used for corporate events, school reunions, small concerts and the like, Bristol said. A room next to the stage area will serve as a satellite studio for radio station KRCC-FM.
• A small second-floor area between the brewery and coffee bar will become home to a Venetucci Farms retail outlet.
• Two-story additions built outside the school, on both sides of the building’s main entrance, will have a dual purpose. Upper floor areas will serve as outdoor terraces for customers of the brewery, bakery and coffee bar. The brewery’s barrel room will be housed underneath one terrace, while an art gallery will be accommodated underneath the other.
Bristol, Coleman and Fennell are preserving as much of the school’s well-known features as possible. Murals that line the school’s hallways and washrooms, along with ceramic tiles featuring pupils’ hand-prints that decorate portions of the walls, are being retained throughout the school. Don’t look for men’s and women’s washrooms; the boy’s and girl’s signs on bathrooms will be kept intact.
In Bristol Brewing Co.’s Wildcat room, plaster was removed to reveal the school’s original red brick walls. Classroom chalkboards will be used as tables in a children’s area of the bakery.
The school was in terrific shape as the renovation got underway, Fennell said. There was no asbestos; the school district had replaced windows; and the roof and wood floors were in good condition, he said.
The partners wanted to take advantage of the functional aspects of the building, Fennell said; its renovation was designed so that various uses and activities could take place throughout the school on any day of the week. The building’s red brick walls, meanwhile, are aesthetically pleasing, but also absorb heat in the summer to help keep cool the building and release heat in the winter to keep it warm, Fennell said.
The project has been applauded by community members and civic groups, who appreciate the mixed-use concept being created in the area.
“Anytime you’re able to get multiple things under one roof or organizations under one roof, I think it draws more people to a location,” said Christina McGrath, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region.
Not only is the school being redone, but Bristol and Coleman own the nearby building at 1626 S. Tejon St., which will become the home this year for the Millibo Art Theatre. That move, along with the presence of the Blue Star restaurant and other nearby businesses, will help create a hub of activity in the area, McGrath said.
“The way that (they) have gone about bringing a lot of different groups together,” she said, “will make the project significantly stronger.”
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