The Robert Steele Gymnasium, 3914 King St., was built in 1914 by the Rev. Walter S. Rudolph and his wife, Hattie Rudolph, to provide a place for play and social opportunities for the children of northwest Denver.
That’s more or less how how it has been used since then. In recent years, it was a Boys and Girls Club, then a base for Colorado Uplift, a religiously based charity organization. (The North Denver Tribune describes the historic community role of the gymnasium in loving terms here.) And that’s still more or less how it will be used, though the changing use reflects Berkeley’s changing demographics.
David and Allison McMurtry plan to open a Goddard School in the building, and they got a rezoning Monday night that they need to move forward with buying and renovating the century-old Mission Revival building near 38th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.
A Denver Square on the same property that was long the home of the Steele Center Cooperative Preschool, 3441 W. 39th, is also included in the rezoning. The McMurtrys said they would incorporate the home into the new preschool.
The Robert Steele Gymnasium, named after the progressive Colorado Supreme Court judge who pioneered the concept of juvenile justice in the state, is on the state register of historic places, but it’s not a designated Denver landmark.
David McMurtry said it is his intent to preserve the building and honor its role in northwest Denver history, and he has entered into covenants that will protect the building for at least a decade. But McMurtry said he was worried that landmark designation would force him to move too slowly if he needed to fix something.
“Our target audience doesn’t know why you shouldn’t eat a nail, so we wanted the ability to move quickly,” he told the City Council.
McMurtry said he plans to put $1.5 million into fixing up the gymnasium.
Goddard schools serve kids ages six weeks to six years and use play-based learning. They tend to be on the expensive side. (Google autofills “Are Goddard schools” with good … worth it … expensive, in that order.)
The McMurtrys said their intent is to operate the preschool for decades and fill a desperate need throughout Denver for quality child care. The rezoning, though, would allow for other uses, especially without landmark designation.
Enough neighbors signed a petition in opposition to the rezoning that it forced a supermajority of 10 council members to approve it, something that isn’t particularly easy to do. They wanted more historic protection and a custom zoning that would address traffic and parking concerns. However, at the last minute, opponents sent an email saying they withdrew their objections. Historic Denver also supported the rezoning.
The previous custom zoning on the site allowed for child care facilities up to 3,000 square feet and community centers up to 12,000 square feet, which made the gymnasium too large to be a preschool. The rezoning request met all the criteria, and if it weren’t rezoned for the preschool, another buyer could come in and try to redevelop the site.
Councilman Albus Brooks asked if the preschool would participate in the Denver Preschool Program, a preschool subsidy supported by a special sales tax that takes the edge off tuition even for middle-class families. (At least one of the city’s other Goddard Schools does participate, according to the program website.)
Allison McMurtry said she wasn’t familiar with it, but that she and her husband would love to look into it.