Jamaica Primary School is a midcentury elementary school designed by Atchison & Kloverstrom that opened in Aurora’s Havana Park neighborhood in 1958. Part of a massive school-building effort by Aurora Public Schools to keep up with the city’s booming postwar population, Jamaica was intended to serve as a small community school for local children in kindergarten through third grade. Now home to a preschool called the Jamaica Child Development Center, the building is the best preserved of Aurora’s twenty-five midcentury schools.
Keeping Up with Postwar Growth
Before World War II, Aurora was a small town of fewer than 3,500 people. Already by that time, however, the open land east of Denver had started to attract large military and aeronautical installations that promised to transform the region. Fitzsimons General Hospital had opened in Aurora in 1918, while Stapleton Airport was built just across the Denver border in 1929. A decade later, Lowry Field opened in 1938, during the run-up to World War II, and was followed during the war by Buckley Field and Rocky Mountain Arsenal in 1942. These installations brought huge numbers of workers and soldiers to the Aurora area; many of them remembered Colorado fondly and returned with their families after the war.
Meanwhile, military preparation for the Cold War and the Korean War continued to funnel new residents to Aurora, while the city’s 1949 decision to create its own water department freed it from Denver’s tighter leash on growth. By 1950 Aurora had nearly 11,500 residents, a number that would mushroom to more than 48,500 in 1960 and nearly 80,000 in 1970. Thanks to the postwar baby boom, a remarkably high proportion of these new residents—more than 20 percent—were school-age children, taking the population of Aurora Public Schools from about 1,000 in 1949 to nearly 10,000 by 1957.
Facing a crippling classroom shortage, Aurora built new schools as fast as it could. Aided by a 1950 law providing assistance to municipalities affected by an influx of government jobs, the city built fifteen new schools during the 1950s and a total of twenty-five between 1945 and 1970. To save money and time, the school board employed a single Denver-based firm, Atchison & Kloverstrom, to design the vast majority of buildings.
Modern Schools for Modern Education
During Aurora’s 1950s boom, the Havana Park neighborhood of midcentury ranch houses took shape rapidly between Sixth and Eleventh Avenues on the east side of Lowry Air Force Base. When up to 150 new houses were slated for construction in the area around the planned Del Mar Parkway in early 1957, Aurora announced that it would acquire a large lot for a school at Eighth Avenue and Jamaica Street for $35,000.
Like Boston Primary (1953) and Paris Primary (1955), two earlier Atchison & Kloverstrom designs, Jamaica Primary School was built to serve neighborhood children in kindergarten through third grade. The single-story building incorporated many distinctive midcentury design elements, including a steel frame, tan brick facing, large bands of windows, exterior classroom doors, flat awnings, and a flat roof. The entrance of the U-shaped school faced west onto Jamaica Street, with two perpendicular wings extending east to frame a rear courtyard. The central section had restrooms, an office, and a library, while the north wing contained four classrooms and the south wing held four more classrooms, a multipurpose room, and a kitchen. With only eight classrooms, the school’s design reflected a progressive educational philosophy favoring small, child-focused schools with a comforting environment that emphasized social as well as intellectual development.
Thanks to Aurora’s close relationship with Atchison & Kloverstrom, school construction went quickly, with Jamaica Primary welcoming 300 students in January 1958. Jamaica immediately relieved severe overcrowding at other schools and became an important neighborhood center that could be used for meetings, performances, and other events. But even Jamaica had so many students that kindergarten and first grade were initially held in split sessions, with different student groups attending at different times. In the fall of 1958, Jamaica’s kindergarten moved to a separate building to alleviate the ongoing classroom shortage, but it later returned to its planned home in the school’s northwest corner.
Jamaica Primary School’s midcentury design has remained largely intact. The most significant alterations to the school occurred in 1970. That year, the building’s original skylights were removed to prevent leaks and allow classrooms to get dark enough for students to see projector displays and videos, and a rear addition was built to provide space for a teachers’ lounge. Designed by Colorado Springs firm Lamar & Kelsey, the addition mirrored the original building so closely that it was nearly indistinguishable.
In 2009 Jamaica Primary School was converted to the Jamaica Child Development Center—the second school in the Aurora district dedicated solely to serving preschool students; in this case it served those with educational challenges. As part of the change, the school’s bathrooms were remodeled, new playground equipment was added, and the library was turned into an office. Nearby, two new buildings constructed on the Jamaica School property in 2002 and 2014 now offer additional options for early childhood education.
Despite these changes, Jamaica Primary School retains many of its original finishes—including tiled hallway walls and exposed-brick classroom walls—and remains an excellent example of midcentury school design. In 2017 the school was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.