High School (former) – Burlington MA

Description

Formerly Burlington’s high school, what is now a municipal building at 61 Center St. was constructed as a New Deal project with Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) assistance. The P.W.A. supplied a $76,950 grant for the project, whose total cost was $163,411. The cornerstone was laid on Dec. 3, 1938 and the building was put into use in Sept. 1939, though formal dedication didn’t occur until Oct. 12, 1939.

PWA Docket No. MA X1437

The building’s design is most unusual for its era, and the building has been extensively renovated. The only real architectural cue of the building’s heritage is its 1938 cornerstone.

Town reports thoroughly detail the town’s interactions with the P.W.A., including the design process. Here is an excerpt from the Report of the High School Building Committee, Dec. 31, 1938:

The starting of construction was somewhat delayed due to the fact that the P. W. A. authorities rejected our original plans on which they had previously approved the grant. This made it necessary to draw up new plans. Our original plan was classified as a three-story building by the P. W. A. and therefore could not be constructed in the manner we had originally planned. To construct a building according to P. W. A. specifications which would have the design of our original plans, the cost would have been so very much higher that the appropriation of $158,000 would not be sufficient. In view of this, we were forced to change our plan from a Colonial to a building of modernistic design. While our revised plan only calls for two floors against three on our original plan, the school will actually have a greater capacity than our original plan and will be of a more costly construction which naturally means a more lasting and durable building. The corridors will be completely fireproof and the gymnasium wing of a fire resisting construction which is called for under P. W. A. specifications.

The town report provides an image of the proposed, “standard” Colonial school design, from which the resulting building was a far departure.

Later, the W.P.A. undertook a grounds improvement and grading project that lasted into 1941.

The gymnatorium/cafeteria wing was gutted by a major fire (while undergoing renovation), around 1989 or 1990. It was eventually rebuilt within its walls, but the roof girders, which were warped by the heat of the fire, had to be replaced (along with the whole roof, which collapsed during the fire), hence the gray band around the top of that wing. There is a new, larger gymnasium—the original stage area wasn’t rebuilt—and an expanded Recreation Department facility in that space today.

Source notes

National Archives: Record Group 135: Public Works Administration; Projects Control Division; Entry 52: Indices to Non-Federal Projects; Report No. 5: Status of All Completed Non-Federal Allotted Projects, page 13.

Annual Report of the Town Officers of Burlington, Massachusetts for the Year Ending December 31, 1938: Report of the High School Building Committee (pp. 121-7).

Annual Report of the Town Officers of Burlington, Massachusetts for the Year Ending December 31, 1939: Report of the High School Building Committee (pg. 207).

Annual Report of the Town Officers of Burlington, Massachusetts for the Year Ending December 31, 1941 (pg. 86).

Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on January 17, 2017.
Additional contributions by Ed F., May 2019.

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Location Info


61 Center St.
Burlington, MA 01803

Coordinates: 42.503655, -71.190817

One comment on “High School (former) – Burlington MA

  1. “the gymnasium wing of a fire resisting construction which is called for under P. W. A. specifications” There’s some irony that the gymnatorium/cafeteria wing was gutted by a major fire (while undergoing renovation) in around 1989 or 90. It was eventually rebuilt within its walls, but the roof girders, which were warped by the heat of the fire, had to be replaced (along with the whole roof, which collapsed during the fire), hence the gray band around the top of that wing. There is a new, larger gymnasium-the original stage area wasn’t rebuilt-and expanded Recreation Department facility in that space today.

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