Civic

Struggling to Save Historic Schools in Washington State

Posted on: April 25th, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Chris Moore

The Moran School on Bainbridge Island in Washington. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

The Moran School on Bainbridge Island in Washington. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

Preservationists have been grappling with the issue of historic schools since the genesis of the movement to save old buildings. And the situation in Washington is no different.

Over the past decade, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation has worked to raise awareness about the difficulties facing historic schools. Prompted in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s inclusion of historic neighborhood schools in its 2000 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, in 2002 the Washington Trust commissioned a study to examine the status of historic schools statewide. This study provided an overview of historic schools that remain in use, those that have been modernized, cases where schools have been successfully adapted for new uses, and identified historic schools that are endangered or have already been lost to demolition.

In the nearly 10 years that have passed following this study, much has happened across the state. For example, state formulas for funding school construction have been re-examined. Previously, local districts could access a higher percentage of state matching funds when new construction was involved, creating a disincentive to rehabilitate aging facilities. This funding disparity has since been corrected.

In our cities, we are seeing concerted efforts to modernize historic schools, enabling them to meet the needs of students in the 21st century while retaining historic character-defining features. In Seattle, bond measures for school improvements include full consideration of a school’s historic significance and the district has successfully upgraded many historic buildings, outfitting each with the latest educational technology. Due in large part to the work of local preservationists, the Spokane School District is now in the habit of favoring upgrades to existing historic schools over new school construction, a practice enabling several schools to boast of providing continuous instruction in a single facility for nearly a century.

The City of Tacoma also embraces school rehabilitation. As part of the school’s centennial celebration, the district invested over $100M to rehabilitate Stadium High School. In addition to meticulously preserving the chateau-style exterior and original shell of the building, new athletic, fine and performing art facilities were compatibly incorporated to provide students with the best of all worlds.

Following on the success of Stadium High, the city’s preservation office, local advocates, including the preservation group Historic Tacoma, and others supported the school district in an effort to identify and highlight additional historically significant school buildings. The district hired a consultant to study the issue, which resulted in six additional schools being added to Tacoma’s local register of historic places.

Despite these successes, the fact remains that not all schools are able to remain in traditional use. In these instances, it’s important to be flexible. In an effort to save their historic schoolhouse, the residents of Five Mile Prairie, a rural community in northern Spokane County, envisioned a use that was compatible with the historic function of the school while offering the opportunity to highlight the area’s history.

Partnering with the local school district, advocates successfully supported passage of a bond issue in 2005. The result: the foyer of the Five Mile Schoolhouse is home to a permanent exhibit depicting community life on the prairie while the building houses the Mead Education Parent Partnership (MEPP), an effort of the school district to provide a ‘homeroom’ of sorts for the area’s home-schooled student population.

Trafton Elementary School in Washington's Arlington School District. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

Trafton Elementary School in Washington's Arlington School District. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

There are, of course, ongoing challenges to find new uses for historic schools. For reasons of school consolidation, last year the Arlington School District voted to close the doors of Trafton Elementary School. Listed in the National Register, Trafton has been in use since 1912, although a school has operated on the site since 1888. The district plans to retain possession of the school and hopes to rent it out for other community uses, yet the building remains unused since its closure last year.

The Hartline School in eastern Washington faces a similar dilemma. Situated amid acres of wheat with a skyline of grain elevators, the school closed its doors in 2008, forcing students to attend the neighboring high school over 20 miles away. With demolition a real possibility, local advocates and Hartline alum formed the Hartline School Preservation Association (HSPA) and lobbied Grant County Port District #5 to purchase the building. Successful in their bid, the port took ownership last year and is working closely with HSPA on a plan for future use.

Of course, not all advocacy campaigns end well. The Moran School on Bainbridge Island offered an early preparatory school on the shores of Puget Sound. Around 1918, an impressive dormitory structure containing a ground floor theater was constructed to house the burgeoning student population. But by the 1960s, the campus converted to use as a retirement community, and the dormitory went unused—save for storage. Faced with severe maintenance issues, the owners sought to demolish the school building, prompting the Washington Trust to include the structure in our 2010 list of Most Endangered Historic Properties.

In cooperation with the owner and the local preservation commission, the organization identified a potential buyer with a plan for reuse. Unfortunately, purchase and sale negotiations broke down and the owners have reverted to their initial demolition plans. Discussions for mitigation are currently taking place.

So whether the sticking point is increasing (or, in many cases, decreasing) class sizes, school consolidation, implementing new technologies, aging infrastructure, or state policies that favor new construction over rehabilitation, historic schools in Washington face uphill challenges (and yes, that’s uphill both ways – walking to school and the return trip home!).

Chris Moore serves as the field director for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

The Best Prize of All: Healthy, Sustainable Communities

Posted on: April 12th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Walkable schools give kids the opportunity to be more physically active.

Have you ever won a prize?

Well, yours truly hadn’t...until last week. That’s when I got the news that my video (see above!) from the Active Living Research Conference was chosen as the winner in a contest among attendees! I’m so excited by the milestone that I want to share it – and the reasons I was in San Diego – with you.

Like me, I’m assuming that you’ve fallen in love with one – or perhaps many – historic neighborhoods, with their lovely tree-lined streets, interconnected blocks, and great architectural details on multi-storied buildings. While we preservationists appreciate this type of environment for its intimacy and beauty, others appreciate how healthy these types of built environments can be – walkable places where you can get your recommended daily dose of exercise while simply going about your everyday business.

Understanding the relationship between the built environment and our health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created Active Living Research. This national program helps prevent childhood obesity by supporting research on the policy and environments that contribute to active living for children and their families. So how did I – an admitted policy wonk and preservationist – end up at the group's conference?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation received a grant from Active Living Research to collaborate with Dr. David Salvesen from the University of North Carolina’s Institute for the Environment. Together, we are studying the factors that influence why some states have changed their acreage standards for schools, as well as the impact of those changes on the size of sites. We’re hoping that by combining our strengths of research and dissemination, we'll encourage the preservation and development of walkable schools, which would give more kids the opportunity to be physically active.

In addition to learning about other “active living” research, I made a presentation to my fellow Active Living Research grantees about translating research into state-level policy change. One example I shared was from New Hampshire, where National Trust advisor Senator Martha Fuller-Clark led a campaign to increase the planning coordination around school siting decisions. Under state regulations, school districts only had to give local governments notice about the location of a new school 30 days prior to the start of construction. In 2008, she introduced a bill that would have required a more inclusive planning process. Sadly, it failed to get out of committee.

Meanwhile, the Preservation Alliance of New Hampshire received a $6,000 sub-grant and technical assistance from the National Trust through the Helping Johnny Walk to School Project. Through this project, we have hosted monthly calls with individual researchers (five of whom had received Active Living Research grants) to share findings. Armed with new information, the Preservation Alliance of New Hampshire brought together legislators, officials from the Department of Education, and those interested in public health, transportation, sustainable land use, and education. As a result of this convergence of interests, New Hampshire’s Climate Action Plan – the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – recommends the renovation of existing schools and better planning coordination.

Additionally, the New Hampshire legislature passed SB 59, which requires school districts to cooperate more closely with municipal officials and to encourage more public participation in the planning process before receiving state dollars. This new law will lead not only to more school renovations, but a more thoughtful and inclusive planning process.

This is just one instance where Active Living Research has helped change policy at the state-level. I’m sure it will not be the last. After all, isn’t that the real “prize” we’re all after – healthy, sustainable communities for everyone?

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities Project for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Saving Criglersville School

Posted on: March 29th, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Susan Apel regularly takes her four children to play on the grounds of the former Criglersville Elementary School in Madison, Virginia. Recently, her kids were upset at the vandalism done to the 1940s school and wanted to “do something about it.” Surfing the Internet, she came across the National Trust’s This Place Matters campaign. Days later, the Madison Eagle featured a story about their efforts to show that “this place still matters.” This is her story…

By Susan Apel

Supporters of the old Criglerville gather to show that "This Place Matters" to their community. Photo: Don Richeson, Madison Eagle

Sitting at the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains and facing the Robinson River, Criglersville Elementary School has been a vital part of our community from when the original school was built on this location in the 1920's until the most recent school building closed in June 2003. That’s when the school board deemed the property surplus and turned it over to the county.

While a few ideas were entertained about using the building as a community center … a satellite building for the local fire and rescue … and an artists' center … these ideas lost momentum due to budget constraints and lack of county administration support.

When the property was turned over to the county and no longer used as a school, it lost its "grandfather clause" for the well and septic. Now the building will have to be brought up to current building codes in order to be used by the public.

No power … no water … broken windows … one upper, one lower elementary playground …  a United States map on the asphalt behind the school … today the school looks deserted, abandoned, almost as if something tragic occurred.

Yet, the building beckons to you. It's as if you can still hear the children singing and enjoying their Friday "hoot-a-nannies." You can remember the parking lot and field full of cars for the Criglersville School Harvest Supper. You can hear the laughter from the parent-teacher skits that were put on in the auditorium for the community. This building still breathes life, hope,  and unity to all who come.

Volunteers clean up at the site of the former Criglersville Elementary School on March 26, 2011. Photo: Don Richeson, Madison Eagle

In spite of the physical condition of the building, I feel a sense of hope and pride in the ideas the building represents: the joy and delight of childhood, neighbors helping neighbors, a time when life was simple and the center of the community was the school.

From the grounds, I look up and see the Blue Ridge Mountains. I look to the left and I see the neighbor's basset hound coming to say hello through the fence. I stop and give the dog a gentle pat on the head and a good morning. I ask if she misses the children who used to play here. I look to my right and I see calves munching grass with their mothers close by.

The question remains -- what will become of Criglersville Elementary School? A group of concerned citizens in Madison, Virginia hope the future for Criglersville Elementary School will be bright.

We are working on several ideas to propose to the local Board of Supervisors: a community center and park, new location for the Boys and Girls Club, and an artists' center. The two biggest challenges facing Criglersville Elementary School are 1) financial resources and 2) local government approval of this endeavor.

We are meeting with experts in the near future who can give us detailed information on what needs to be done with the building, projected expenses, and possible financial resources. Our community clean-up day to work on the outside of the school was a success!

We go boldly forward trusting the future for Criglersville Elementary School will be bright and full of promise. However, we are in the infant stages of this process. Any and all advice from others who have tried to find alternative uses for their school is much appreciated!

Susan Apel  is spearheading the effort to encourage reuse of the Criglersville School and hopes to receive ideas and suggestions from others who have found alternative uses for their former schools.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Hunting for Georgia's Equalization Schools

Posted on: March 15th, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Joy Melton

The concrete covered walkway highlights the entrance to the equalization era building on the Carver Freshman Campus. (Photo: Joy Melton)

The concrete covered walkway highlights the entrance to the equalization era building on the Carver Freshman Campus. (Photo: Joy Melton)

What usually has a flat roof, large banks of windows and is clad in bricks? The answer: an equalization school. Equalization schools were built in Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s to create school facilities that were “separate but equal” for whites and blacks. As an intern for African American Programs at the State Historic Preservation Office in Georgia, I - along with my supervisor (and National Trust Board of Advisors member) Jeanne Cyriaque - have surveyed numerous equalization schools. This project is of particular interest because nearly 400 new schools were built and additions were made to over 100 existing equalization schools for African Americans in Georgia alone. In a state as geographically diverse as Georgia, Jeanne and I have studied a wide variety of adaptive uses for these historic school buildings.

The Roberts School in Acworth was recently rehabilitated for adaptive use as a community center. A low flat roof, brick exterior and large banks of windows are common architectural features. (Photo: Jeanne Cyriaque)

The Roberts School in Acworth was recently rehabilitated for adaptive use as a community center. A low flat roof, brick exterior and large banks of windows are common architectural features. (Photo: Jeanne Cyriaque)

I begin each assignment by researching possible addresses for each school and mapping out directions. The research of Reuben Acosta, a former intern in the office, has been invaluable in helping me locate the schools. Reuben prepared a school list that identifies information such as the county and city of each school that he researched at the Georgia Archives. Information, gathered by my co-workers, on equalization schools from Section 106 and environmental review has also been helpful. Additionally, during Jeanne’s frequent travels across the state for speaking engagements and meetings about African American resources, we learn of and document equalization schools in the area.

In the field, Jeanne and I have traveled to over 80 equalization schools in 45 counties. Today, many equalization schools are still in use as schools, some are vacant while many others boast creative adaptive uses such as a homeless shelter in Morven, a church in Pearson, and an assisted living facility in Valdosta. The most highly used example is a community center such as the one located in Woodbine which houses a Head Start/daycare, senior center, health department, cooperative extension program and alumni meeting place. Many alumni of the equalization schools are still living and have been a tremendous help with preservation efforts.

The 1923 Coffee County Training Rosenwald School in Douglas now known as the Carver Freshman Campus was a recent discovery of a Rosenwald and equalization school on one campus. (Photo: Joy Melton)

The 1923 Coffee County Training Rosenwald School in Douglas now known as the Carver Freshman Campus was a recent discovery of a Rosenwald and equalization school on one campus. (Photo: Joy Melton)

Several equalization schools also have Rosenwald schools on their campuses. These include the Colored Memorial Rosenwald School/ Risley School in Brunswick, the Eleanor Roosevelt Rosenwald School in Warm Springs and the Vienna High and Industrial School in Vienna. Rosenwald schools, funded in part by the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, represent another large construction boom in schools for African Americans in the early 20th century. One of our recent equalization school discoveries is Fairmont High also known as Griffin Vocational, the 50th Rosenwald school discovery in Georgia.

Along the journey, Jeanne and I have encountered amazing success stories and incredible people who work to preserve and find new uses for these endangered yet historic treasures. Within our office, architectural historian Steven Moffson is researching and documenting equalization schools. Steven will speak on equalization schools at the Georgia Statewide Preservation Conference in Macon, March 31st - April 1st 2011.

Joy Melton is a graduate student in the Heritage Preservation Program, Historic Preservation Track at Georgia State University and an intern in African American Programs at the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office. She attended the National Preservation Conference as a member of the Diversity Scholarship Program in 2009  and 2010.

Would you like to attend the National Preservation Conference as a member of the 2011 Diversity Scholarship Program? We are now accepting applications for this year’s conference, which will take place in Buffalo, New York from October 19-22. The deadline to apply online is June 1, 2011.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

From Schoolhouse Rock to the Hard Rock Hotel

Posted on: March 14th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

As a kid, I loved Saturday morning cartoons – remember those “School House Rock” cartoons?  Must have known I was going to end up in policy because “I’m only a Bill on Capitol Hill” was one of my favorites…

Recently, this self-proclaimed policy wonk has talked about the National Trust’s work to save older schools at a couple of conferences and I wanted to share my observations:

Observation #1 – As speakers, preservationists have a leg up on others …

After examining the number of local children near each school site, the Billings, Montana school board tabled discussion about the proposed new elementary school outside of the city’s densely populated neighborhood.

After examining the number of local children near each school site, the Billings, Montana school board tabled discussion about the proposed new elementary school outside of the city’s densely populated neighborhood. (Photo from "Helping Johnny Walk to School")

…because we get to show images of places that matter to our audience!  At the recent Active Living Conference in the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego, I showed these two images from the Helping Johnny Walk to School publication--the image on the left shows the existing elementary school in Billings, Montana while the image on the right shows the proposed location of another elementary school.  I went on to explain how researchers found 353 five-year-olds per square mile within the gridded city and 27.4 in the second, more rural location.

To paraphrase the “other Renee” (Zellweger) in a famous movie, I “had” them with the images alone—the statistics were just icing on the cake.

Observation #2 – As advocates, preservationists are not alone …

…in trying to find better ways of sustaining our communities. In February, I attended the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.  While I had to search high and low to find a historic building in the immediate area around my hotel, I loved this conference because it’s a place where many fields converge.

For instance, I learned that California State Senator Alan Lowenthal introduced a bill (SB 132) requiring new and existing school sites conform to the state’s planning priorities aimed to reduce pollution.  This bill was based on findings made from a forum convened by the Center for Cities and Schools on the connection between schools and sustainable communities.  Note to self: schools placed near residents help curb greenhouse gas emissions.

I also learned that the LISC organization in the San Francisco Bay Area had developed a holistic approach to transforming neighborhoods.  In the Nystrom neighborhood in Richmond, this includes the effort of residents to improve the local school and to connect it once again to a neighboring park and community center. Takeaway:  improving the local school is transforming this historic neighborhood.

In my session at the conference, we spoke to a diverse audience with several from the health field (lesson learned: involve health professionals in your school siting discussions – they think the built environment should encourage healthier kids!)

First, Mike Raible, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School Facilities and Jonathan Wells from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department spoke about the city’s unique charter to jointly plan public facilities–including schools. Key point: through monthly “Joint Use Taskforce Meetings,” all the departments figure out how their capital investments in facilities can be leveraged to create more efficient public spaces.

Myrick Howard from Preservation North Carolina and Vicki Coggins of Albemarle, North Carolina shared ideas for keeping older schools in use–from changing state policy to encourage more rehab to showing local school districts how older schools can be retrofitted to provide 21st century educations.

Sara Zimmerman from the National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity shared legal tools for protecting school districts when they open their school facilities to other uses. She also spoke about how neighborhood schools might have the unintended consequence of re-segregating neighborhoods. First step: ensure diversity goals are part of any school siting plan.

Observation #3 – preservationists must encourage more policy changes…

… in order to keep our older walkable schools in use.

In January, I went to the southern regional meeting of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantees.  At one session, we saw where many policy changes were encouraging healthier food in our schools, but there were only a couple of instances where the policy changed to encourage more walkable schools.  Kids (along with their parents) need to be able to walk and bike to school on a daily basis and use the playgrounds on the week-end.

For everyone’s “to do list” … change policy that prevents our older, walkable schools from being used.

Renee Kuhlman works at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and encourages sharing our recommendations for removing barriers to community-centered schools with school district officials, legislators, and even your neighbor next door.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.