With its striking rock architecture and status as WCU’s only building constructed as part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, Breese Gymnasium has been a campus icon since it opened in 1939.
“The use made of the building … has been equaled by that of scarcely any other on the campus,” wrote WCU historian (and former president) W. Ernest Bird ’15 in 1963. “Standing in the approximate geographic center of the college grounds, unparalleled in type and unique in historical interest, it gives promise of still many more long years of service.”
Those long years may have partially run their course. In need of extensive and expensive attention, Breese Pool has been closed since summer 2009, although the remainder of the building still is in use.
The pool needs to be brought into compliance with new federal safety regulations, its filter system replaced, its mechanical equipment room overhauled and work done on its plaster basin, said Joe Walker, associate vice chancellor for facilities management. The cost estimate for repairs is more than $328,000. The pool in Reid Gymnasium, completed in 1956, has accommodated water programs and activities since the Breese Pool closure.
Breese’s opening gave the school a new basketball court and its first swimming pool, and a 1939 golden jubilee celebrated at WCU included a banquet and dance held there. It was part of a six-building expansion that also included the new Madison Hall, the McKee Building and Hoey Auditorium. While five of the buildings were the result of New Deal Public Works Administration projects, built in cooperation with state and local government and of generic materials, Breese was constructed almost exclusively with federal funds from local materials. “That’s why WPA buildings have that look,” said George Frizzell ’77 MA ’81, university archivist. “They seem to belong to the very land that they set on.”
Breese underwent a renovation with $1.1 million in funds from the 2000 Higher Education Bonds, and portions of the building remain in demand. The department of stage and screen uses the building extensively for classes, rehearsals, auditions, workshops and recitals, and the dance program offices are housed there. “Breese has the only space equivalent to the Fine and Performing Arts Center stage, and we can’t get into FAPAC for rehearsal,” said Melody Huddleston, stage and screen departmental assistant.
According to Chuck Wooten ’73, vice chancellor for administration and finance, the decision to leave Breese Pool in disrepair simply comes down to money. “There’s just no funding currently available,” Wooten said. The state has reduced its repair and renovation funds substantially over the past couple years and has failed to allocate any for 2010-11.
In the meantime, Breese Pool hangs in limbo. While there are no plans to repair it, Wooten said, “A decision has not been made to abandon it.” Such a decision, most likely with a recommendation from the university’s Executive Council, ultimately would come from the Office of the Chancellor.