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Champlain Apartments (Champlain School)
Frank L. Austin's Richardsonian Champlain School is a well-preserved representative of an important Burlington building type. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the city joined the national trend of constructing substantial, multistory, neighborhood-oriented grade schools. In Burlington W. R. B. Willcox designed four: Edmunds High School (1900), Adams School (1902), H. O. Wheeler School (1904), and Archibald School (1905). This school, named in commemoration of the tricentennial of the discovery of Lake Champlain, was built to serve the city's South End, a new industrial and workers' neighborhood that developed beginning in the 1890s on filled land along the railroad and lakefront. It was Austin's first large-scale commission in a career that would specialize in such public work as the Vermont Reform School for Troubled Youth (1910–1938; 100 MacDonough Drive, Vergennes), the Vermont State School for Feeble Minded Children (1918–1938; Arnold District Road at U.S. 7, Brandon), and, in Burlington, Edmunds Junior High School (1926; 275 Main Street) and Elihu Taft School (1938; 14 S. Williams Street).
The massive brick and Longmeadow stone block has tall round-arched bays set atop a raised basement of rusticated brickwork. A zone of lattice-patterned brickwork fills the spandrels above the arcade beneath a weighty slate hipped roof with deep eaves and shaped rafter tails. Seven central bays define an entrance pavilion with a deeply recessed arch of concentric header courses beneath triple corbeled archivolts. Austin's interiors demonstrated functional innovation—brick interior walls and steel floor girders to enhance fire resistance, half windows in some bays to permit additional blackboard space, a pair of classrooms that converted into an assembly hall, and ventilated ground-floor toilets.
Changing teaching patterns, maintenance costs, and lack of wheelchair accessibility made such schools as this problematic in the late twentieth century. The Champlain school typified the state's abandonment of such older buildings, and the challenge of finding new uses for such community landmarks. In 1969 Burlington built a new Champlain School on the other side of Pine Street. Anticipating what would become a trend in Vermont, the building was sold for conversion into housing in 1982. Recycled to conserve its major interior qualities, it continues life as a handsome apartment building with twenty-six units.
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