The Ivywild School: Grand Old Tradition, Brand New Perspective

When I ask people if they’ve ever been to the Ivywild School, they say, “Why would I want to go to a school?” When I explain what the Ivywild School has become, they ask, “Where is it? I want to check it out!” Those who visit the school will discover that the only thing school-like about it is the theme. The rest is a progressive, fun place to eat, drink, and shop.

Ivywild Sign

The Ivywild School first opened in 1919, and it stopped functioning as a school in 2009, which is a pretty good run for a school. Many much “younger” schools here in Colorado Springs have been re-purposed as charter schools or city buildings when they were much newer than Ivywild’s 90 years. I have familial connections to the Ivywild School — my dad’s cousins attended there in the 1940s.

As a fourth-generation native, it’s been interesting to watch Colorado Springs continue to re-invent itself and to reminisce with my dad about what it was like growing up here in the 40s and 50s. The Ivywild School is a perfect example of the way a building’s history should be preserved while the building itself should function as a community-driven collection of businesses. Bristol Brewing, formerly housed next door to the Blue Star Restaurant across the street, now takes up the north half of the school, while the south half houses a butcher shop, bakery, restaurant, logo shop, coffee shop, bike shop, and mini-market where shoppers can buy locally grown organic foods, herbs, and spices.

The Ivywild School as it exists now opened in 2013 with the core ideas of sustainability and reciprocity supporting its once-crumbling foundation. From the Ivywild School Website:

The thinking was inspired by the idea of strengthening the neighborhood’s identity by restoring its historic centerpiece. But more importantly, it was an alignment of beliefs in which they all stood behind – the common good of a community, local business and the environment. By bringing together like-minded people and businesses, sharing byproducts and eliminating waste, they were attempting to do something that had never been done before in the heart of a Colorado Springs’ neighborhood.

Long-range plans include community gardens with 20 beds that will grow veggies used in the restaurants and bars (the Blue Star included). A mini-orchard will be grown along the perimeter fences. They plan to use these gardens to educate not only about gardening, but about sustainability, reciprocity, and community involvement. Once the gardens get going, the reciprocity will broaden to include more items and a wider circle of trading, to include members of the community and other local businesses.

The brewery is now doubled in size from its former location, and it’s modernized and much more efficient. It can be managed from an app rather than by extra staff. Heat from the cooking and fermenting stages of the beer is used to heat the building. Spent grain from the beer-making process gets made into focaccia chips which are served in the restaurants; the rest goes to Venetucci Farm for animal feed. In exchange, the farm gives Ivywild the manure from its cows as well as herbs, veggies, and chickens used in some recipes in the Ivywild restaurants. Because the beer is now next door in the school, the Blue Star Restaurant has room for its own butchery, which ages and handles the organically fed and grown beef and pork used in the restaurants. All waste is composted and used to fertilize the gardens at Ivywild and at Venetucci Farm.

Bristol also makes beers for fundraisers, like their Smokebrush Porter, whose partial proceeds go to the Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts, and the Venetucci Pumpkin Beer whose proceeds benefit the Venetucci Farm.

The old classrooms, the gym, and the offices are still there (you can host a party of up to 50 in the gym, and go to the Principal’s Office for a coffee rather than punishment).  The kindergarten is now the yeast lab, where different strains of yeast are cultured and traded or sold to other breweries. The other basement rooms house the beer-making and restaurant supplies.

Visiting the Ivywild School is an event in itself. It’s not just a place to drink beer, shop, and grab a sandwich; it’s a place where people build community by contributing to something larger than themselves. There is a palpable sense of belonging, which may be why the place is always crowded, even on a snowy Sunday afternoon. The walls still feature the art donated by the former art teacher; the bathrooms alone are worth the trip.

Painted Bathrooms

It’s fun to explore the building and imagine what it was like to be a student there since student art is now a permanent part of the walls in some areas, and the old brickwork and masonry are clearly visible throughout the building.  An innovative way to re-purpose a landmark while preserving its history, the Ivywild School is a perfect blend of classic and modern, new-school and old-school.