Civic

 

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.

Preservation Round-Up: We Heart Historic Schools Edition

Posted on: December 27th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Written by Renee Khulman    

The 1930 Schuylkill School, listed on Pennsylvania's at-risk list, is scheduled to be demolished for a parking lot this month. (Photo: Preservation Pennsylvania)

Happy Monday, Nation! Here's your Preservation Round-Up, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s twice-weekly digest of preservation tidbits from around the country. Today we're going to do things a little bit different; instead of serving up a smattering of news and notes from here and there, we're going to get all retrospective and take a look back at 2010 through the lens of one of our favorite issues -- historic schools.    

With just a few days left until we wear funny hats and clank glasses, year-end lists are running rampant. You know what I'm talking about -- most shocking celebrity moments, biggest holiday gift items, world's highest earners. Maybe you've even started making some lists of your own. Resolutions for 2011? Things to re-gift next holiday season?    

Anyway, all of this list-making got me thinking about about how my preservation crush fared in 2010. So, without further adieu, here's a round-up of news -- and yes, some lists -- that you should know about if you also heart community-centered schools.    

This year, Colorado Preservation, Inc. combed the Centennial State to inventory schools that were at least 50 years old and created Our Living Legacy, a film featuring six of the schools that have been renovated. The Tacoma (Washington) Public Schools got a similar list when it hired an architectural historian to survey its school buildings two years ago. As a result, the city council listed six more historic schools on the Tacoma Register of Historic Places this month. Preservationists believe the school district to be a national model, “acknowledging not only the architectural and cultural significance of these structures, but also that these places matter deeply to our community.” This is a key point because the school system owns one of the largest collections of significant historic buildings in the city.   

Some folks also made lists of abandoned schools. Kyle Munson of The Des Moines Register maintains a list of “prairie castles,” former brick school buildings that have been given a new life as something other than a school. Old Ohio Schools posts “knock-your-socks-off” images of now-demolished schools to encourage more thoughtful decision making. The Alliance for Historic Wyoming lists schools that have been demolished and describes the short-sighted policies behind their abandonment.     

Historic Tacoma encouraged the local school district to identify and list their historic school buildings on the city's register of places important to their community. (Photo: Historic Tacoma)

When Preservation Pennsylvania released its annual at-risk list last week, the organization listed the 1930 Schuylkill School in Schuykill Township. Ironically, the school’s thick stone walls represented “permanence” to the school’s philanthropist, Frank B. Foster. For the past eight years, the Friends of Schuylkill School have urged preservation, but sadly demo is scheduled to begin this month to make way for a new parking lot.    

Preservation Dallas had a similar idea, but their most endangered list includes all of the historic buildings owned by the Dallas Independent School District. The organization called attention to the need for catching up with deferred maintenance and discouraged demolition of the city’s “venerable and beloved schools.” Preservation Dallas points to the district’s recent effort to update the Booker T. Washington High School as a model for combining historic and new educational facilities elsewhere in the district.    

In Detroit, the Historic Designation Advisory Board spent $33,000 surveying schools built before 1960. This summer, the Michigan Historic Review Board approved a list of 88 nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Now that’s a list! Preservationists sought this listing as a way to encourage reuse of these historic buildings instead of demolishing the community anchorsPreservation Wayne makes the point that if these buildings were listed, the new owners could take advantage of tax incentives for rehabilitation and that the repurposed buildings could continue to serve their community.    

Now, does all of this have you inspired to save some schools in 2011? Check out this literature review of relevant research we recently posted here at PreservationNation. It summarizes some of the best thinking out there and offers some really compelling points to ponder. Also, check out our list of recommendations for encouraging more community-centered schools.    

With that, enjoy your Monday! Got any tips, news, or otherwise preservation-related fluff? We’d love to include it in the next round-up. Send us your links on Twitter and Facebook, and maybe you’ll see it here next week!    

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 Environmental Protection Agency, helps states encourage more community-centered schools through both policy and practice. She can be reached at policy@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.

Care to Comment? Weigh in on New Draft Federal Guidelines for Siting Schools

Posted on: December 13th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

In their draft school siting guidelines, the EPA encourages the continued use of community-centered schools, like this 1937 South Elementary School in Lander, Wyo., because they offer multiple travel options like biking and walking and their central location means fewer Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs).

We need your help to ring in the New Year with new … federal guidelines?

Yes, and there’s no time to waste.

In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft of the voluntary federal guidelines for siting schools. Over the next couple of months, they’d very much like to hear from people like you—folks who care about the well-being of their communities.  Specifically, the EPA wants your comments on their proposed guidance around the complex decision-making process of where to locate schools in a healthy and safe manner.

Why take time out of your busy schedule to comment? Because the guidelines will directly affect efforts to preserve or renovate historic schools and will impact the reuse of older buildings for educational purposes.

As we well know, schools are a linchpin for the health of a neighborhood. If a community-centered school is left empty after closure or razed, property values fall, private and public investment tends to shrivel, and the spirits of the local residents are dampened.  However, if a community decides to renovate, retrofit, or expand an older school, then property values rise, additional rehabilitation is spurred, and confidence in the area’s future grows.

These guidelines are intended to be used by Local Education Agencies (LEAs), tribal governments, state agencies, and for everyone involved in the siting process. Moreover, this guidance is to be consulted before decisions are made whether or not to renovate the existing school. It’s critical that we provide the EPA with comments from our preservation perspective.

Are the guidelines long? Certainly. It’s the federal government. But in terms of other federal guidance, they seem VERY short by comparison. Plus, they’ve made it easy for us. They’ve broken the guidelines into bite-sized pieces and provided a lot of excellent navigating tools.

So here’s my “wish list” of what I’d like to see happen:

  • First, share this opportunity widely with your neighbors, historic preservation commissions, Certified Local Governments (CLGs), nonprofit preservation organizations, teachers, principals, and even your pediatrician! Anyone concerned about where schools are located should read the guidelines and offer their comments.
  • Second, let the EPA know that we, the preservation community, appreciate the language that calls for retaining older, community-centered schools. Urge them to retain and even expand these references in their final version.
  • Third, review the 10 parts of the draft. To help, we've provided links to each section and pointed out pieces that would be of particular interest to preservationists.
  • Finally, share your own experiences with schools in your community and how you see these guidelines being used in the future.

In late January, we’ll post the National Trust’s comments that we send to the EPA. For example, we’ll recommend good environmental practices that would help reduce air pollution while encouraging the preservation of older schools such as:

  • As part of the Environmental Review Process, a Local Education Agency could compare the number of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs) between where students live and the different school locations. Since older schools tend to be located nearer the residents they serve, they would fare well in such a comparison and if the community chose to renovate (or expand) the existing school, then fewer greenhouse gas emissions would be emitted.
  • Also as part of the Environmental Review Process, LEAs could compare the population density per square mile of the existing school site versus the other proposed sites. Researchers have found students are more likely to bike or walk if the facility is located less than 1 mile from home and these ways of traveling don’t use fossil fuels!

So those are my two ideas for today.  What suggestions or comments do you have for EPA and how do you see these guidelines playing a role in future siting decisions in your area? Remember, comments are due to the EPA by February 18, 2011.

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.

Using Data (Ugh!) to Create a Better Plan for Billings, Montana Schools

Posted on: November 30th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Broadwater Elementary was one of four older schools scheduled to be closed a decade ago by the Billings (Montana) Schools District. Today, this 1909 school remains in use after an intensive advocacy effort by students, faculty, parents, and neighbors.

For those folks who enjoy statistics and actually take great delight in reading charts, I’m afraid we’ll never see eye to eye.  I don’t like deciphering statistics or figures unless it’s in very small doses and explained with a lot of text!  But lucky for me (and a few others, I suspect), there are folks like Kathy Aragon. This mother of three children and a Billings, Montana school board member is unafraid to examine what exactly her local demographic data actually means.

But, this blog isn’t about my phobia--and the story actually starts over a decade ago.

About that time, our Mountains/Plains Office helped some Billings residents when they learned that their school district planned to close two of the four historic elementary schools. They would be replaced with a new school on the town’s developing western edge, to save $180,000.  Sadly, we also reported the outcome—three elementary schools closed despite efforts to encourage renovation—in the 2000 report Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School: Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl.

Fast forward to November 2009. After learning that the same school district proposed further consolidation of facilities, Kathy asked me if the National Trust had resources and if there was a standard definition of a “community-centered school.” learned that Kathy was a school board member who passionately believes schools play an important role in the health of a community.

A physical therapist by training, Kathy began helping with local health and wellness events—including the launch of the annual “International Walk to School Day” in Billings. Her subsequent involvement in the “Go Play” educational campaign to raise motorist awareness about kids biking and walking led to her assisting with a county-wide parent survey on this topic that was analyzed and printed with the help of a local health department.

Through this assessment Kathy and other locals found out that distance from school is one of the main reasons why fewer students are walking and biking to school these days than ever before.  Research shows that kids are more likely to walk or bike to school if they live within a mile of the facility.

Billings School District Policy 9001 requires an annual analysis of the city’s demographics and to use that information when planning for schools. When they looked at the number of five-year-old children per square mile, they found out that the core of Billings had 353 children per square mile and that the location of the proposed new school had 27.4 per square mile. Understanding that school location played a key role in how many students biked and walked to school, Aragon was concerned about these numbers.

Also, because the community had been through a lot when Rimrock, Garfield, and Beartooth schools were closed, the board also wanted to get them involved in the planning process. Realizing it had had flat school enrollment for forty years, the school board formed a Planning and Development Committee with two school board members, two representatives from the district, and nine citizens from across the city.  This committee recently posted their findings online.

Recent analysis of Billings, Montana demographics shows 353 children (age 5 as of 2000 census) living within 1 mile of city core, while there were 27.4 per square mile in the proposed new elementary school location (image on the right). Credit: Google Earth.

So why am I encouraging you to read this committee report from Billings? Three reasons:

  • Because … this economic depression has led more and more school districts to make difficult decisions regarding school closures and reconfigurations. For example, neighboring Wyoming residents are asking their school district NOT to demolish the 1937 South Elementary School in Lander and instead renovate and expand the site so it can serve the community for another 73 years. This video shows the school sitting among “neighborhood homes and businesses” and the high quality of the materials used by the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression.
  • Because … you can take the research done in Billings and compile the same types of information for your own community to ensure neighborhood vitality and walkability are considered during these discussions.
  • Because … this type of data-sharing encourages closer cooperative planning between municipalities and school districts which leads to less waste of time and resources.

So in addition to completing their first demographic study that will be updated annually, what else is this school district doing? Well, they’re also:

  • Working with the local Health Department on completing health impact assessments of all their elementary school sites;
  • Beginning to hold meetings of city, school district, transit, and housing officials to plan collaboratively and find ways to meet their sustainability goals;
  • Conducting listening sessions throughout the city; and
  • Reconsidering all of the previously developed facilities plans this month.

The analysis provides the board with new insights about how their decisions can also meet other community goals—such as increasing the ability of students to walk and bike to school, decreasing transportation costs (the third largest cost for the district), and decreasing costly “sprawl” development. This information will help them achieve their goal of aligning facility needs with educational goals.

Kathy Aragon started researching community-centered schools a few years ago and as far as I can tell, hasn’t stopped. Hopefully, her story will inspire you to look at your own area’s demographics and their deeper meaning for older, walkable schools in your community.

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.