Adams State Rex Center receives historical grant funding

(09-16-2009)

The Adams State College Rex Activity Center (Rex) is an impressive historical landmark and has inspired physical fitness for generations of students. Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, the building's age shows in cracking and peeling stucco. Thanks to a grant from the Colorado State Historical Society through the State Historical Fund, the exterior of Rex will soon return to its former glory.

Constructed in 1938-39 through Public Works Administration project funds, Rex Activity Center was originally built as Adams State's first free standing gymnasium. The college's first president, Dr. Ira Richardson, wished to acknowledge and celebrate the Hispanic culture of the San Luis Valley, and had the gym, along with the President's Residence, now known as the Marvel House, and three dorms built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, by the accomplished Denver architect, the late William Norman Bowman. Two of the former dorm buildings have been demolished.

The Rex, named for Clifford P. Rex, who served on the Board of Trustees of State Normal Schools from 1925-1949, stood vacant for 30 years after construction of Plachy Hall. After a capital fee was passed by students in 1995, Rex was remodeled for an on-campus fitness center.

Now it is time for the exterior of Rex to receive attention. The finish coat of stucco is eroded, particularly on the front of the building. A 2007 State Historical Fund grant of $25,000, funded by limited stakes gambling taxes, supported an evaluation and analysis of the stucco, paint and the methods of the early construction, as well as later patch jobs. The original appearance of the building was researched and methods were developed for the safe removal of detrimental materials and application of new materials that will replicate the appearance and function of the originals. Architect Belinda Zink created the construction documents for the exterior restoration of the Rex.

Zink said the initial grant made it possible to study the cause of the problem and find the right remedy. "By determining the right treatment we save money in the long run and have a building exterior that will be more durable."

With the success of its most recent grant application, Adams State will receive an additional $198,000 from the State Historical Fund for exterior improvements to Rex, including a new stucco finish coat and brick cleaning and repair. Adams State is matching the grant with $100,000 from institutional reserves which, in part, will fund preventive site work to avert future damage from current environmental conditions. Rex Activity Center will be protected from demolition or major exterior modifications for the next 20 years due to a Colorado Historical Foundation easement included in the grant.

Zink said preserving the historic site makes better energy sense than creating a new building. Rex's embodied energy is the millions of brick it contains. She said it takes one gallon of oil to manufacture seven bricks. "You might as well just throw oil in a landfill if you tear down a building like Rex, and then there is the cost of money and energy in bringing in new materials."

Adams State Vice President of Finance and Administration Bill Mansheim said the campus owes a special thanks to Tawney Becker in assisting Adams State with the grant writing process. Becker is excited to be a part of seeing the exterior of the magnificent Rex Center restored. "Its grand presence in the heart of campus and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture link Adams State to the community and downtown." The Alamosa County Courthouse and 1935 post office building were also built during the New Deal era as WPA projects and relate architecturally. Sacred Heart Catholic Church, though an earlier structure, is also Spanish Colonial Revival style. "Seeing this historic centerpiece of campus restored will be a wonderful contribution to the college's improvements and build on its attractiveness to students," Becker added.

Rex Activity Center offers a variety of exercise classes and other activities to both the campus and community, including basketball, salsa, yoga, aerobics, weight lifting, intramural events, cardio-vascular machines, racquetball, and climbing wall. The local Special Olympics group trains in the Rex, and Upward Bound holds some of its summer programs there. The Rex is also available for evening rentals such as high school after-prom events. Robbie Lopez, Adams State coordinator of sports and recreation, said it is the "most used building" on campus, averaging 200 to 250 students a day. "With a fresh new look, Rex will create a bold presence on campus while retaining its historical integrity."

"A fitness facility like the Rex is usually only found at expensive, private colleges and universities," Zink said. "Rex is a focal point on campus and for the whole town."

Mansheim said he appreciated Kat Olance, director of Luther Bean Museum, assistance with historical research.

The project ties in with Adams State's north campus renewal project. Over the next five-year period the college will invest $40 to $50 million to enhance the student living and leisure environment to compliment the academic neighborhood. "The college recently invested money to restore the Marvel House, and this is another historical site we are committed to preserve," Mansheim said.

By Linda Relyea