Civic

Historic Kansas School Being Adapted for Reuse… As a School

Posted on: February 28th, 2011 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Written by Elizabeth Rosin

Just a few windows dramatically improve the appearance of the Independence Middle School building.

Just a few windows dramatically improve the appearance of the Independence Middle School building.

The fate of historic schools is a major preservation concern these days. Shrinking populations and district budgets all too often result in the closure of older school buildings. Standing empty is never good for an older building or for the surrounding community.

Because older schools are so well laid out and solidly built, many find new uses after the end of their educational tenure. It is rare to find a small to mid-size town anymore that does not have a repurposed school building. Less common is to see a school district invest in the renovation of a historic school so that it can continue to function as a school. But, that is happening in Independence, Kansas.

The 1923 Independence Middle School was designed by Chicago architect N.S. Spencer and Sons to meet the highest standards in education at that time. When the building opened, the local newspaper boasted (with just a touch of hyperbole) that the new school was “the best of its kind west of the Mississippi.” Fast forward 88 years, and the building remains full of students. A larger gymnasium was added in 1939, and new windows were installed around 1980. Otherwise, not much has changed, although educators no longer view it as a cutting-edge facility. Some classrooms are too small, others are too big, connections between the original building and the 1939 gym are extremely awkward, access to technology in the classrooms is less than desired, and there is a lot of underutilized space.

Terrazzo chalk rails are integral to the walls in all classrooms.

Terrazzo chalk rails are integral to the walls in all classrooms.

Committed to maintaining the building, the school district began exploring state historic tax credits as a vehicle to enhance their available budget. They developed a rehabilitation program that would maintain the building’s significant historic features while updating classrooms for the 21st century.

Meshing preservation standards with the educational program was not that hard. A few minor tweaks to the original renovation plan made the project compliant with the Secretary’s Standards. The school district is approved to receive state tax credits to the tune of 25% of qualified expenditures when construction wraps up. Project highlights will include:

  • Preservation of features and fabric that communicate significant aspects of the historic design, especially in public areas like the corridors and auditorium.
  • Relocation of interior partitions to adjust the size of individual classrooms. The classrooms will have both new technology-enhanced “teaching walls” and unique, historic terrazzo chalk rails.
  • Reconfiguration of the two 1923 gymnasiums to house two levels of music/art and vocational classrooms with the addition of a concrete floor slab.
  • Creation of a larger gym floor and activity space in the 1939 gymnasium by removing one set of bleachers.
  • Adaptation of the auditorium to house multiple new functions by sensitively partitioning the space while preserving the distinctive historic features of the space.
  • Restoration of the building facades by installing new multi-light windows.
The media center and computer lab viewed from the multipurpose room.

The media center and computer lab viewed from the multipurpose room.

The project is about halfway complete. Renovation of the first floor classrooms, the 1923 gymnasiums and the auditorium finished last summer. Portable buildings were installed on the front lawn to house some classrooms so that construction could continue during the school year. New windows started going in after Thanksgiving, and classrooms reopened on the third floor over the winter. Construction is now focused on the second floor and, when basketball season ends, the 1939 gymnasium. When students return to school next August, the Independence Middle School will be ready to educate many future generations of Independence children. The school district will reap the financial benefits of the historic tax credits, and the entire community will be rewarded with the preservation of an important local touchstone.

Elizabeth Rosin is the owner and principal of Rosin Preservation, LLC, in Kansas City, Missouri.

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.

For the Love of Schools

Posted on: February 14th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Asheville, North Carolina volunteers discovered that the district's oldest school - built in the 1920s - is also their most energy-efficient. (Photo: Courtesy of Asheville High School)

Asheville, North Carolina volunteers discovered that the district's oldest school - built in the 1920s - is also their most energy-efficient. (Photo: Courtesy of Asheville High School)

At this point in my life, I really shouldn’t be surprised by what people will do in the name of love. But recently, I’ve been blown away by what people are doing out of their appreciation for older and historic schools.

Take Ron Miller, for example. He’s a retired engineer living the good life in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina.

Guess what he does in his spare time?

Along with other retired scientists, Ron freely shares his expertise through Waste Reduction Partners (WRP) to help schools and other institutions become more energy-efficient.

Over the summer, WRP assessed nine school campuses and the central office of Asheville City Schools. After evaluating over a million square feet of building space, it turns out the oldest building on the campus—Asheville High School’s main building—is also the most energy efficient.

As part of their work, WRP made recommendations for achieving further efficiencies in all the district’s facilities. Talk about showing affection!

However much Ron appreciates quality construction, it’s probably fair to say that no one loves school facilities more than Mary Filardo.  From saving the Oyster-Adams Bilingual Elementary School in Washington, DC from closure to researching the connection between schools and community, Mary appreciates the “BEST” qualities of older, neighborhood schools.

With Jeff Vincent from the Center for Cities and Schools, Mary created a joint use calculator.  How cool is that?

A new "joint use" calculator helps schools better manage their operating expenses while encouraging the community's use of facilities on the week-ends and after school hours. This could help keep open schools threatened with closure such Byrd Elementary in Selma, Alabama. (Photo: Selma, Ala., Daily Photo Blog - selmaala.blogspot.com)

A new "joint use" calculator helps schools better manage their operating expenses while encouraging the community's use of facilities on the week-ends and after school hours. This could help keep open schools threatened with closure such Byrd Elementary in Selma, Alabama. (Photo: Selma, Ala., Daily Photo Blog - selmaala.blogspot.com)

Struggling to find money for operations in their shrinking budgets, administrators can use this calculator to figure out ways to more economically share their space.  Those of us struggling to keep older schools in use are popping the Champagne!

This brings me to how you can show your own love.

  1. Instead of roses … send your school district superintendent or school principal the link to the joint use calculator.
  2. Encourage students you know to submit their photos and essays describing why they love their historic school through a contest called Through Your Lens.
  3. Tell us why you care -- what about that old school makes your heart beat a little faster each time you see it? Is it the big shade trees in the front, the bank of beautifully arched windows, or the fact that you can walk to see “your” team wallop the competition? Revisit “10 Good Reasons to Show Historic Schools Some Love” and add some more ideas.* Surely after almost a year we can get the list above 15!

Whatever the reason, it’s Valentine’s Day… so let everyone know why these places matter to you.

Renee Kuhlman is the director of special projects for the State & Local Partnerships and Policy department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

*You'll need to add the ideas as comments to this post, as comments on the original one are closed. Thanks!

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.

Add Your Two Cents to Draft Guidelines for Siting Schools

Posted on: February 4th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

The 83-year-old Ewing Elementary School in Ewing, Kentucky, is being closed and a new school will be constructed in the geographic center of the county but not in the center of a community. (Photo: Fleming County Schools)

Q:  Have you – or someone you love – ever tried to save a school?   Yes/No

Q:  Does your community have an older or historic school that’s central to its well-being? Yes/No

Q:  Are you finding it difficult to revitalize a neighborhood without a quality school? Yes/No

Q:  Are you looking for another use for one of your town’s “white elephant” buildings? Yes/No

If you answered yes to any of these questions above, please consider adding your two cents to the Environmental Protect Agency's (EPA) draft voluntary siting guidelines. The following are three types of situations that might inspire you.

In Fleming County, Kentucky, the school district is closing an 83 year old school in downtown Ewing (pop. 278) to build a new K-6 elementary school in the geographic center of the county, but not in the center of a community. If the guidelines had been in place, the community and school district could have worked together to avoid: the forfeiture of $75,000 in federal “safe routes to school” money to improve downtown sidewalks; fewer students walking and biking to school; more roads and sewers built in an undeveloped part of the county; a price tag of an estimated $10 million in taxpayer dollars for land acquisition and construction costs; and citizens struggling to keep the town of Ewing “afloat” without one of its largest “anchors.”

Moreover, the guidelines would recommend a change in the state’s policy that says if the cost of renovation exceeds 80% of the cost of constructing a new school then it will financially support the “new construction” option. Such a policy places older schools at a risk of being abandoned in favor of a new facility with a shorter lifespan. If an older building is retrofitted with new technologies it can probably last another half-century … and beyond. 

Decisions like the one in Knox County, Tennessee, to adaptively use the L&N Train Station for a charter school in downtown Knoxville will become more common if communities use the siting guidelines. Not only does this type of renovation spark more rehabilitation in the surrounding area, but such reuse also offers environmental benefits too – it prevents the construction of a new school, roads, and sewer on undeveloped land and can lead to less cars on the road (e.g., fewer “vehicle miles traveled”).

Districts are struggling to find funding to keep schools open. After a process identifying its “underutilized schools,” the Poudre School District’s recent 4-3 decision to keep Beattie Elementary School open means that they now have to figure out how to make this happen financially. The EPA’s guidelines suggest “joint or shared use” as a way communities can more efficiently use publicly owned space. By calculating the expenses needed to make sharing space feasible, the district may be able to recoup its costs and continue using this much-appreciated school.

The EPA  is currently taking comments on their proposed guidelines about the complex process of where to locate schools in a healthy and safe manner. These guidelines will directly impact your efforts to keep older communities viable in the next decade.

So, here are our comments. We hope you use them as a template to provide comments of your own. Even if you only have time to write just a few paragraphs, share how these guidelines would have impacted your own community’s recent experience with siting schools. 

Bottom line – if you care about older schools, historic buildings, and the livability of your community, send your comments to the EPA by February 18, 2011 and copy me at policy@nthp.org so, just like the greeting card companies, I’ll know that you “cared enough to write.”

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities Through Smart Policy project at 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.

 

Written by Brad Vogel

Broad Community Connections, a local Main Street non-profit, and a team of MIT students are working with the Trust's New Orleans Field Office to advance a plan to revitalize the abandoned Israel Augustine School.  (Photo: MIT School of Architecture + Planning)

Broad Community Connections, a local Main Street non-profit, and a team of MIT students are working with the Trust's New Orleans Field Office to advance a plan to revitalize the abandoned Israel Augustine School. (Photo: MIT School of Architecture + Planning)

What would you do with $1.84 billion in funding for your community’s educational infrastructure? As you can imagine, that sum has the potential to spur a great deal of change in a city’s physical schools landscape.

When New Orleans's Recovery School District received that particular amount as part of a settlement with FEMA in August of 2010, it touched off a veritable game of musical chairs. Many school entities who had seen their educational facilities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina began to lobby for particular sites and new buildings. Charter schools, a strong and emerging component of the local education scene, organized and angled in on the scene. A series of vigorous neighborhood meetings is currently underway, designed to solicit input about the final school assignments.

Naturally, there are many moving parts to track in this fluid landscape. More than 100 school buildings are being impacted. Here at the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust, we've been doing our best to make sure that when the dust settles, each of the many historic school buildings currently scheduled to be demolished or landbanked as a result of the shakeup is instead well on its way to some sort of adaptive reuse. We've even taken on an intern lately to help keep us focused on the historic schools issue.

The main school building at Booker T. Washington High School is currently slated for demolition, although the massive, late Art Deco auditorium would be spared. The National Trust's Field Office is working to ensure that the Section 106 process for the1942 school building includes all local stakeholders.

The main school building at Booker T. Washington High School is currently slated for demolition, although the massive, late Art Deco auditorium would be spared. The National Trust's Field Office is working to ensure that the Section 106 process for the1942 school building includes all local stakeholders.

A number of school buildings have shaken out of the main FEMA settlement for additional Section 106 review given their special historic significance. We've taken a special level of involvement with three schools - the Booker T. Washington School, a severe late Art Deco structure that served as the first new high school in the city built specifically for African American students in the 1940s; Phillis Wheatley Elementary, a hyper-cantilevered modernist structure that, when proposed for demolition, drew involvement from the World Monuments Fund; and the McDonough No. 19 School, a key site in the Lower 9th Ward where young black girls like Leona Tate integrated the public schools in the 1960s (a plaque was placed outside the vacant building in November). We've participated actively in Section 106 processes for the first two schools, and we're working with community members seeking to preserve and reuse the McDonough No. 19 building to aid in the ongoing rejuvenation of the Lower 9th Ward.

We also continue to advocate for the preservation of the McDonough No. 11 School. Sporting a powder blue finish and elaborate detailing, the 1879 masonry school is an Italianate/French Empire structure that is threatened with demolition by the LSU/VA hospital project. Fifteen structures have been demolished in the immediate vicinity of the school since October, despite the fact that the project is short on financing by over $400 million. The building is still owned by the Orleans Parish School Board, and it could be spared if the State of Louisiana reconfigured its hospital plans to include the building as administrative offices.

The elaborate McDonogh No. 11 School, built in 1879, faces the imminent threat of demolition despite the lack of adequate financing  for the LSU UMC hospital complex. Over 15 structures in the school's immediate vicinity have already been demolished.

The elaborate McDonogh No. 11 School, built in 1879, faces the imminent threat of demolition despite the lack of adequate financing for the LSU UMC hospital complex. Over 15 structures in the school's immediate vicinity have already been demolished.

Along with all of the historic school buildings that need to be saved and re-purposed, we're glad to know of at least two proactive projects that see the potential in historic New Orleans urban fabric. A team of MIT students, working with a local Main Street program called Broad Community Connections, recently placed in a Chase Community ----- Competition with a plan to rehabilitate the Augustine Israel School as a charter school and high end fabrication lab. The building, which features an ornate Spanish colonial baroque revival facade has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina. Placing in the competition provided the team with funding to pursue development, and I've had a chance to sit down and strategize with members of the team about how best to proceed.

Another abandoned school, the hulking Gothic Revival Bell School is also being targeted for revival by ArtSpace as a potential residence and community space for the arts. Bringing the impressive structure back online would help to revitalize the surrounding Treme neighborhood while respecting its history and helping to perpetuate its longstanding traditions in culture, arts, and craftsmanship.

For me, evidence of the wisdom of reusing historic school buildings is all around. While many of New Orleans’ schools remain shuttered, a number of old schools that have returned to use after rehabilitation are true community anchors – like the Joseph Craig School in Treme, just down the street from the resurgent New Orleans African American Museum. These revitalized and functional schools serve as examples, as a microcosm for the city. They demonstrate proudly that life has returned. But also that the distinctiveness of the city’s many neighborhoods and historical strands has not been forsaken.

Brad Vogel is the Ed Majrkzak Historic Preservation Fellow in the New Orleans Field Office of 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.

How Much Does it Really Cost to Close a Historic School?

Posted on: January 10th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Like many other community-centered schools across the country, Byrd Elementary School in Selma’s Old Town Historic District is slated for closure in 2013. (Photo: selmaala.blogspot.com)

Like many other community-centered schools across the country, Byrd Elementary School in Selma’s Old Town Historic District is slated for closure in 2013. (Photo: selmaala.blogspot.com)

Is it just me or are there a lot more threatened historic schools these days?

Last week, I was contacted by brave souls working night and day in California and Michigan to save their community’s historic school from being closed down and demolished.

My “morning commute” leads me right past a 1950s school that’s being demolished in downtown Blacksburg, Virgina, the hope being, I guess, that an empty lot will sell faster and for more money than one with a reusable brick building.

As I scan daily news from around the country, I frequently read about folks like Selma school board member Frank Chestnut Jr., whose district includes historic Byrd Elementary.  Chestnut was surprised to learn last week, that the school is slated for closure in 2013. The Selma Times Journal reported his surprise and his concern that the closing will “create another eyesore that would damage the surrounding community.”

I’ve come to learn that this isn’t just an American phenomenon—it’s an international crisis.  In Scotland, the proposed closure of 25 small schools in Argyll and Bute is not going smoothly—advocates claim the closure would affect the very existence of several communities, increase children’s commutes, and decrease expected dollars from the Scottish government.  So many English schools are being affected by the economy that English Heritage has developed several tools publications to help communities struggling to keep their historic schools in continued use.

I’ve done enough research to know that there are policies and practices that work to discourage renovation.  And obviously our weak economy is also to blame.  But, I’d argue that there is an even greater fiscal miscalculation: we undervalue the role our older schools play in our community.  We simply are not calculating the full costs of closing or demolishing these historic schools.

The proposed closing of 25 community schools in rural Scotland has led to many protests. (Photo: heraldscotland.com)

The proposed closing of 25 community schools in rural Scotland has led to many protests. (Photo: heraldscotland.com)

For example, if a school district closes a neighborhood school, then less public and private investment is made at that site and over time surrounding property values decline.  In most instances, these same property taxes help fund repair and construction of school facilities. So in the short term, you may have saved money but you’ve also just helped “kill the golden goose.”

Astoundingly in age of concerns over air quality, childhood obesity and global warming, we fail to fully examine the real costs – fiscal and environmental of transporting students to a more distant location.  Even if the state picks up most of the tab, or even if the parents are now driving “little Johnny” to school, the increase in cost is coming out of taxpayer pockets.  With fewer kids walking and biking to school there are less opportunities for daily physical activity–both during the commute to school and also during off-hours on school grounds.  Surely there is then a cost in terms of our kids’ health and an increase in health costs down the road when we’re dealing with individuals who never got in the habit of walking or biking to their destinations?

This brings up another cost – the environmental cost. If we abandon the schools that are closest to us, we’re going to using a lot more fossil fuels to get where we need to go. What does this mean in cost of fuel consumption, more staffing, and additional buses? What does this mean in terms of the quality of air we breathe?

I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read where the solution to today’s economic crisis is to consolidate kids into fewer facilities.  What is the educational cost of having our kids taught in larger classrooms with less opportunity for interaction with their teacher?

Another cost we haven’t really calculated fully is the decrease in neighborhood vitality. What happens when the anchor that pulls neighbors together is gone? Do the nearby shops see less business? Do neighbors run into each other less often? Is there even a sense of neighborhood or is it just a bunch of houses?

So share with me and others–how do you calculate the value of your local historic school?

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy program. This project, undertaken through a cooperative agreement with the US EPA, helps states encourage more community-centered schools through both policy and practice.  She can be reached at renee_kuhlman@nthp.org.

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.