Since 1977, Preservation Idaho has hosted the annual Orchids & Onions Awards, a ceremony designed to celebrate those individuals and organizations that have made a positive contribution to historic preservation, and in turn, to bring awareness to those projects which have shown an insensitivity to historic preservation. Kimberly School District (Kimberly, ID) and CTA Architects Engineers received a “Contribution to Historic Preservation” Orchid Award for renovation of the district’s L.A. Thomas Memorial Gymnasium.
Luke Schroeder, Kimberly School District Superintendent:
The designers and architects from CTA worked diligently to explore options to provide our students with a more accessible and inviting gym, while preserving the integrity of our existing building. The renovations not only match the historical nature of the building, but it achieves a design reminiscent of the original yet unfinished intent.
Our community is extremely proud of how the construction process turned out. We have preserved the historical essence of the building while also providing our students with a much-needed updated gym facility. The end-result is an incredible facility that looks like it has been part of our building from the beginning, rather than being added to it more than seventy years later. It is a great source of pride in our community’s history.
L.A. Thomas Memorial Gymnasium serves as a multi-purpose building for the entire community of Kimberly, ID. In April 1941, its construction was funded by Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” Work Projects Administration (WPA) dollars. With support from the school board, more funds were raised in a bond election the same year, authorizing construction to begin.
Then-Kimberly School District Superintendent L.A. Thomas spearheaded efforts for the gym over the next two years, staying in contact with WPA representatives and gathering construction materials and prospective suppliers. The effort was difficult, however; a declaration of war in December 1941 meant certain materials couldn’t be found or were needed elsewhere for national security, and a priority rating for construction was necessary for attainment of many items. This did not deter Thomas as he expressed the need for this gym as a safer place for young men to learn, stay healthy, and develop necessary skills if they were to one day defend the country.
After several delays, Thomas’s diligence paid off and construction began, based on the plans of architect Andrew McQuaker. In December 1942, another hurdle emerged: the U.S. government announced it would close all WPA projects. But the community rallied; understanding the importance and effort already put into the building, they were able to help complete the roof, windows, and interior finishes. The only items not constructed were the originally-intended stucco exterior and front foyer. Nevertheless, the gym opened in 1943 for use and was celebrated with a dance and basketball game.
Reminiscent of the community support garnered seven decades prior, in May 2013, Kimberly voters approved a $3 million facility bond to renovate and finally finish the building according to its intended design. A symbol of the enduring popularity of this building, it is still one of the most-used facilities within Kimberly School District and even has its own Facebook page, highlighting events and activities.
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Rekindling a relationship with the City of Kimberly and its school district, CTA and Starr Corporation were tasked with finally completing the building’s exterior, creating an entry with more public presence, and adding ADA-accessible restrooms. Renovations also included replacing windows and sidewalks, and upgrading the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.
CTA designers vetted many options for matching the historical nature of the building, concluding a transparent modern addition was ideal. A stucco exterior was applied, and a new glass-lined entryway shines daylight onto an exterior-turned-interior concrete wall, envisioned as a future gallery for historical facility photographs. The original, recognizable character of the building remains visible just inside the entry, the gym is now more inviting and accessible, and the project was completed on time and under a strict budget.
The overall goal of the renovation was to bring the multi-purpose building up-to-date in terms of accessibility, function, and comfort, all while preserving and celebrating the historic nature of the gym. The design solution was developed in hopes to not just replicate the historical look and feel, but rather quietly compliment the historical style of the building. This was achieved through the following thoughtful design techniques:
- Main Entry – A foyer entry way was originally intended for the building but never completed. CTA’s renovation design included a main entry stair, ADA-accessible ramp, and lobby area to give the sense of a formal entry to the building. The lobby preserves the original concrete finish building wall and presents it as an interior gallery wall where historical and community photos can be displayed. Preserving the concrete wall was important to help tell the story of how the building remained unfinished since WWII. The use of glass windows for the lobby increased the visibility of the historic concrete wall from outside of the building.
- Accessible Restrooms – The addition of accessible restrooms was an important and much needed upgrade. Utilization of CMU blocks matched the color and style of other school buildings in order to unify the look and feel of the school campus.
- Exterior – Perhaps the most unique and important element to the gym renovations is the exterior stucco finish. As mentioned, the original exterior design by architect Andrew McQuaker was never realized – until now. CTA designers honored McQuaker’s design by replicating it as closely as possible to blend the new additions and upgrades while still paying homage to his design intent.
- General Repairs – A holistic approach to the renovations and completion of this building also included upgrades to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. The gym is known for its great acoustics and has served as venue for many choir and band concerts over the years. The downside, current district superintendent Schroeder has described, is that the heaters would tend to turn on and drown out the music. With the new system upgrades, listeners can now fully enjoy community events and acoustics.
In a day and age when many older buildings are determined to be better off demolished and rebuilt than restored, this gym stands proudly as a community staple and historical gem. L.A. Thomas Memorial Gymnasium continues to stand tall, serve the community, and tell a great story of perseverance and the power of people, making it a true historic treasure in the Magic Valley.