“We have three buildings,” said Early Connections Learning Centers CEO Diane Price, seated before a radiant stained glass window in the historic Colorado Springs Day Nursery Building. “The one behind the Antlers was built in 1953, the one on Chelton in 1986, and this one in 1922. There are far fewer structural issues with this building than with the others. I think there was a pride in craftsmanship then.”
But even the most beautifully built historic structure needs maintenance and renovation. Preserving and rehabilitating such buildings can demand specialized skills few contractors can provide, and require deep-pocketed funders. For Early Connections, founded in Colorado Springs in 1897, finding the money is a challenge — but meeting challenges is nothing new for the organization.
The founding mothers
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, the building is still used for its original purpose: To provide high-quality early care and education for children from limited-income and working families. Funded by Colorado Springs benefactress Alice Bemis Taylor, the building reflects the turn-of-the-century values articulated by the 14 “founding mothers” of the Colorado Springs Child Nursery Centers in 1897. Taylor and her partners were also motivated by the health crisis that arose from the city’s position as a center for the treatment of tuberculosis.
Local historians have portrayed late-19th-century Colorado Springs as a health resort for wealthy tuberculars, who built houses in the North End or languished comfortably in genteel sanatoriums. But poor patients came as well, as Joan Frederick noted in nominating the Day Nursery for the National Register.
“The condition of the children of these patients was often precarious,” Frederick wrote. “Children of TB patients often were malnourished because, owing to their parents’ illness, there were often financial difficulties as well.”
The Nursery Association sought to “assist working women in the care and education of their children and to procure employment for such women.” In addition the founders wanted to provide a home for children whose families were unable to care for them and to prevent permanent separation of these families. The third floor, with its infirmary and isolation wards, is a reminder of the original function of the building.
“We had just lost a lot of children to influenza in the 1918 epidemic,” said Liz Denson, Early Connections vice president of community engagement. “Taylor thought that many more would have survived if this building had been available.”
Taylor not only funded the building, but also supervised every detail of its construction.
“We have the monthly audits that she received from the contractors,” Price explained. “The building was originally estimated at $160,000, but the final cost was $273,000.”
Taylor spared no expense. The Tudor revival building is as splendid as any 19th-century mansion, with elaborate oak trim, tile floors and fireplace surrounds, and murals based on Mother Goose stories by Colorado master Allen Tupper True. Extraordinary leaded and stained glass windows flood the building with light — but after more than 90 years, they need some attention.
“In the 1990s we installed Plexiglas panes on most of the windows to protect them from hailstorms and vandalism, and now the Plexiglas has turned yellow,” Price said. “The original windows need to be removed and renovated, and so do the nursery doors.”
In 2015, Early Connections applied for a grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund to help cover the cost. The application was denied.
“We asked Charise Boomsma at Preservation Studio a few blocks north on Tejon what we’d done wrong and she guided us through another application,” Price said. “She had a child who was one of our students, so she understands our mission. They awarded us $200,000, and we’ll be signing contracts to start the work by the end of the month.”
“We’ve reached 65 percent of our fundraising goal to complete the project,” Denson added.
Total cost: $464,000. Supervised by RTA Architects of Colorado Springs, the work will include “repairing 67 wood-framed windows and the wrought iron workings on many of the windows,” according to the Early Connections website. “Extensive restoration will be performed on 45 of the leaded and stained glass windows and additional treatment work will restore another 85, returning them to their original state as they were upon the building’s completion in 1924. Protective covers of tempered glass will be placed upon all windows to ensure their durability against adverse weather.”
Early Connections Board Chair Robert Gonzales pointed out the building was constructed a century ago.
“There is no air conditioning. With many of the windows sealed shut due to their disrepair and for the safety of our children, lack of adequate airflow is a concern,” he said. “This project will allow all of these windows to be fully functional again, providing ventilation and natural sunlight for the children.”
Refinishing and renovating the entry doors will be relatively simple, but the windows require highly specialized skills.
“We’ve been talking to Denver Art Glass,” said Price. “They can’t do the work on-site, and we can’t close the building — what we do is really important. We serve about 120 children here, and hundreds more in our other facilities.”
On a recent sunny spring afternoon, subdued yellowish light flooded through banks of stained and leaded glass in the first floor dining hall. Upstairs, preschoolers played and napped, at home in the child-friendly building created, sustained and led by six generations of Colorado Springs women.
Price has worked in the building for 30 years, but she didn’t dwell on the past.
“I can’t wait until those first floor windows are finished,” she said, “and that wonderful light pours into those rooms!”
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