Civic

National Trust Mountains/Plains Office to Green 125-Year-Old School

Posted on: August 24th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Jim Lindberg 

From Left to Right: Ed Nichols, President of History Colorado; Barb Pahl, National Trust Mountains/Plains Regional Director; Stephanie Meeks, National Trust President; John Hickenlooper, Mayor of Denver; and Steve Turner, Director of the State Historical Fund

Last week, National Trust for Historic Preservation President Stephanie Meeks announced that the National Trust will accept the donation of an 1885 school building in Denver’s historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. The Emerson School, a designated Denver landmark also known as the Frank B. McGlone Center, will become the new headquarters for the National Trust's Mountains/Plains Office and two of our preservation partners in Colorado: Historic Denver, Inc. and Colorado Preservation, Inc.

Over the coming months, the Mountains/Plains Office will undertake a $2.3 million rehabilitation of the school, with a particular focus on making the building a model for how older structures can meet – or exceed – the highest standards for energy efficiency and environmental design. It will also be a model for environmental stewardship of National Trust-owned properties. 

Stephanie Meeks shared this vision at a press conference held last Thursday, August 19, at the school. Regional Director Barb Pahl joined Stephanie to make the announcement, along with Denver Mayor (and Democratic gubernatorial nominee) John Hickenlooper, State Representative Pat Steadman, Denver Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, History Colorado President Ed Nichols, and State Historical Fund Director Steve Turner. 

From a stage in the second floor lecture hall at the Emerson School, Stephanie thanked the board of directors of Capitol Hill Senior Resources, Inc. for their generous donation of the school to the National Trust. In addition, she announced that a former Capitol Hill Senior Resources board member, Joan Garrett, donated a $1.5 million endowment to the National Trust to provide for the long-term maintenance of the school. 

The press conference concluded with a big boost for the rehabilitation plan, when History Colorado President Ed Nichols presented Stephanie and the National Trust with a certificate announcing a $500,000 grant to the project from the State Historical Fund. This was one of just two grants awarded to Colorado projects through a special State Historical Fund initiative to demonstrate the connections between historic preservation and sustainability. 

Please stay tuned to PresevationNation.org for additional information about the Emerson School and its upcoming green rehabilitation. Also, click here to learn more about the National Trust’s efforts to retain community-centered schools. 

Jim Lindberg is the director of preservation initiatives for the National Trust's Mountains/Plains Office.

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.

Schools: Reflecting on Recent Environmental Lessons Learned

Posted on: August 10th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Things that very quickly ruin my morning – stories about kids forced to trade quality walking/biking time for long bus commutes to new sprawl campuses.

Each and every morning, I kick off the day by reading through a slew of newspaper stories and blog posts chronicling school closures, rehabilitations, and funding issues. To be honest, it's a labor of love that comes with the territory of being the "schools guru" for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Center for State and Local Policy. Then, after much scanning, surfing, and clicking, I send out the most interesting stories to a growing list of folks who are interested in community-centered schools.

Some of the stories I come across make me glad to have gotten out bed, like this one from the Charleston Daily Mail, where Superintendent George Krelis spoke in glowing terms about the recent renovations to the 1917 Triadelphia Middle School in Wheeling, WV. "There was never a discussion of demolishing the building. It’s in tremendous condition. Structurally, it’s a beautiful facility.”

Ahhh, I live for sound bites like that.

Sometimes, however, I get frustrated seeing the same stories over and over again. Take this example from KITV.com in Honolulu, where one of four K-6 elementary schools located on the island of Molokai might be closed for claimed efficiency reasons. Efficient?!? If the school is closed, the students who currently walk to the 1937 Maunaloa School will not only have to ride a bus, but will lose the many benefits offered by smaller schools. According to Maunaloa Elementary School Principal Joe Yamamoto, “the school is really like a second home to them...they are always around the school.” I must ask (though I can probably answer myself): Has a full cost study been done measuring the health, transportation, and community costs of the decision?

That’s why I was so excited to hear presentations last Thursday by Patrice Frey and Elaine Clegg to the organizations that are receiving funding and technical assistance through the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy project. I thought the lessons we learned that day might be helpful to you.

Lesson #1 – Explain How We’re Avoiding Negative Environment Impacts by Using Older Schools

According to Patrice Frey, the deputy director of the sustainability program at the National Trust, there are several environmental reasons for keeping older school buildings in use. When people think of carbon dioxide emissions and buildings, they typically think of emissions that come from the operation of buildings. In the eyes of many, buildings produce so much carbon through use of electricity and natural gas that it’s better to rip them down and start over. Not so fast! Turns out that the construction process itself produces lots of carbon. For example, researchers have found it takes 35-50 years for a new, energy-efficient home to recover the carbon expended in construction. I’m no mathematician, but even I can extrapolate what that means in terms of school construction.

Lesson #2 – Life Cycle Analysis...Coming Soon

The National Trust is sponsoring research on life-cycle assessments, and one of the scenarios we'll be running is the use of an existing school building vs. demolishing it and building new. For those like me who are unfamiliar with what exactly life-cycle assessment means, check out this easy-to-understand description. Due out this winter, the new research will be a boon in the effort to protect community-centered schools.

Lesson #3 – Guess Again – Older Buildings Aren’t Necessary Energy Hogs

Older buildings, including schools, are not “energy hogs." The Department of Energy has found that the “energy use per square foot” for older, commercial buildings (which Patrice Frey believes would be same basic typology as an older school) is less for buildings constructed before 1920 than any other era of construction up until year 2000. Why is this, you might ask? No need to look further than the thick masonry walls, high ceilings, and operable windows in your local school.

Lesson #4 – Putting It In Writing Makes A World of Difference

Taking the recommendations from a variety of sources, including the recently published Helping Johnny Walk to School publication, Elaine Clegg with Smart Growth Idaho has given presentations across her state about smart growth, safer routes to school, school siting, and complete streets. On the school siting issue, the workshops are designed to encourage collaborative planning between school districts, land-use, transportation, and planning agencies so that school site decisions incorporate a full cost comparison, including transportation, health, and community costs. These workshops encourage an agreement to be signed by agencies and any non-governmental organizations (YMCA, youth organizations, etc.) involved to overcome the question of who has authority to make decisions. Clegg also suggests that such agreements always include a process so that the public’s opinions can be incorporated.

All in all, these four lessons prove that the old saying is wrong; you can teach an old dog some new tricks. Please let us know if they make a difference in your community.

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policyproject and enjoys learning something new every day. If you are interested in her daily of school clippings, please contact her directly 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.

1924 Bank Starts New Life as a School

Posted on: July 27th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Architect John Greer of Witsell Evans Rasco renovated the 49,693-square-foot historic bank building into a 21st century educational space that includes a chemistry lab, physics lab, art room, media center (library), and a multi-purpose room/cafeteria. Photo: Witsell Evans Rasco Architects I Planners

This month, the Little Rock branch of the Federal Reserve Bank reopened – not to service bank customers, but students. The e-Stem High Public Charter School started its semester last Monday in two newly-renovated buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But that’s nothing new for this innovative school. Two years ago, they chose a former newspaper building as their first campus. The downtown school quickly had a waiting list of over 1,000 students, which was far more than they could accommodate.

Southern Bancorp CDC, which has provided renovation assistance and financing to other public schools, bought the old Federal Reserve Bank in 2009 and is now leasing the building to e-Stem Public Charter Schools. Despite mechanical and plumbing obstacles, the building’s proximity, historic finishes, and ability to be renovated to fit current educational needs made it a perfect fit for e-Stem's expansion.

Originally constructed by Thompson & Harding Architects over a period of nine months at a cost of $217,000, the bank building was located next to the Gem Theater. After burning in 1929, the rebuilt three-story concrete framed and brick structure became known as the Gem building. The Federal Reserve purchased the Gem Building in 1959, moving in their old records and creating a secure entrance for loading and unloading currency.

Architect John Greer of Witsell Evans Rasco renovated the 49,693-square-foot building into a 21st century educational space that includes a chemistry lab, physics lab, art room, media center (library), and a multi-purpose room/cafeteria. The building also offers a wireless network and classrooms equipped with four computer workstations and built-in audiovisual systems. In addition to installing new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, historic materials such as plaster ornamentation, marble floors, and column wainscoting have been restored. Windows that were once bricked-in now offer natural lighting in each classroom throughout the day.

Greer says that the school plans to take advantage of the historic architecture. “It’s just a great building for the kids. It’s got a lot of architectural details for them to enjoy and the school plans to take advantage of that by offering classes in architecture and photography.”

To utilize these historic buildings, unique solutions had to be found. Because there’s no gym within the new building, the school is partnering with a local college to use their gymnasium. And while there is not enough room for a prep kitchen, students will enjoy their locally-catered lunches in a cafeteria that doubles as a multi-purpose room.

The location couldn’t be better for working parents, as it’s located in downtown Little Rock. The students will be able to take advantage of the central library (just three blocks away) and the nearby Robinson Music Center Auditorium. It’s a true community-centered school.

According to Greer, one of the biggest challenges was creatively incorporating new technology and systems while keeping the historic ceilings exposed. Because many of the modifications made over the past few years had to be torn out, the asbestos abatement was easier than originally anticipated. Another problem was configuring the classrooms. Typical spacing between supporting columns isn’t as conducive to classrooms as a building designed specifically for educational purposes, but the school was flexible and able to change their program to fit the sizes of the rooms in some cases.

During the dedication ceremony, President of Southern Bancorp CDC John French said, “We hope that it contributes to the success of the high school students who will study here and furthers the redevelopment of downtown Little Rock and the Main Street area.”

Approximately 375 students in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades will occupy the buildings for the 2010-11 school year. Next year, the charter school will add the 12th grade, bringing the total combined enrollment up to 500 students.

Hopefully, the creativity that went into renovating the space will inspire the students at e-Stem Public Charter School to be equally creative during their school career – and beyond.

Check out this video covering eStem's opening. >>

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy project for the Center for State and Local Policy 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.

Reflections on Modernizing and Expanding a Historic School

Posted on: July 12th, 2010 by Guest Writer

 

DC's School Without Walls (Photo: Joseph Romeo)

Written by Sean O’Donnell

Now that summer has arrived in earnest, Washington, DC’s School Without Walls Senior High School (“Walls”) has become unusually quiet. This 440-student public school just enjoyed its first year back at its newly-modernized and expanded campus, giving me a chance to reflect on how well this learning community has settled back into its home.

The renewed facilities – a combination of a 19th century school house and a 21st century addition – have had a dramatic impact on learning. Test scores and applications to enroll in the school have both risen dramatically. The fourteen juniors who enrolled in the first full year of the Early College Program are taking dual credit courses at the neighboring George Washington University toward an associate’s degree.

In a roundtable conducted by the American Architectural Foundation, teachers remarked that the building greatly enhanced communication among the faculty. New distance learning technologies have further enhanced collaboration with students attending schools in Ghana and Nigeria, and the facilities have enhanced the sense of pride among the Walls community.

Senior Malika Morris expressed this newfound sense of pride in The GW Hatchet by saying: “I remember freshman year when people would ask me what school I went to… and they’d say ‘What school is that?’ But now I say ‘I go the School Without Walls’ and they’re like ‘Oh, the new school in GW.’ And that’s my school! So it feels good.”

Sadly, the school existed for nearly 40 years in a building that endured a long history of deferred maintenance and functional obsolescence. The three-story, twelve-classroom design of the 1882 Grant School Building – now occupied by Walls – was based on then-Superintendent of Schools J. Ormond Wilson’s research into European and American school design.

Although begun as a model 19th century schoolhouse, the building was considered outdated by the 1940s because it lacked any assembly space. During a visit to the school, Eleanor Roosevelt decried the building’s poor condition. Various ad hoc modifications occurred over the following decades, but by 2000, the building was in terrible disrepair. Its condition was best illustrated by a student video that, while at times humorous, showed the deplorable condition of their learning environment: extensive water damage, falling plaster, lack of power, crumbling window sashes, general inaccessibility, and lack of space.

While the students spent the last year taking advantage of the resources of their modernized campus, this renovation and expansion project received a number of prestigious awards, including Learning by Design’s 2010 Grand Prize for Excellence in Educational Facility Design and the 2010 AIA Committee on Architecture for Education Educational Facility Design Awards Program Citation. Just a week ago, the school building became certified by the United States Green Building Council as LEED for Schools Gold. For me, the success of Walls – educationally and architecturally – proves a larger point: Historic buildings can thrive as 21st century schools.

Walls provides tangible evidence that if you can look past the daily experience of the current problems beleaguering many of our older school buildings and truly assess their potential, many are capable of meeting contemporary educational needs with the proper investment. And when considered within a broader context of educational and societal goals, they may even exceed the performance of a new “green field” school.

Click here for more information on Walls and the process that enabled several other older schools to adapt to contemporary needs.

Sean O’Donnell, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal with Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects.

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.

Saving Older and Historic Schools: Are We There Yet?

Posted on: June 22nd, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

The Albert Bushnell Hart Junior High School, one of 25 facilities in Cleveland scheduled to be demolished. (Photo: ClevelandAreaHistory.com)

Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the inclusion of older and historic neighborhood schools on the National Trust's annual listing of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, my toddler’s favorite phrase this summer keeps going through my mind – “Are we there yet?" Unfortunately, we have not reached our “destination” where community-centered schools are the norm across the country.

For example, last week I read that a school district in Morgantown, WV plans to close and merge Woodburn (100 years old) and Easton (80 years old) Elementary Schools in favor of a new $12 million “green” school on a seven acre site within the city limits. I ask – what could be more “green” than updating an older school so that it could be used for another 100 years? Could those same millions of dollars have upgraded the facilities so that they could continue to serve the community for another century? And why did the West Virginia School Building Authority support this decision with $8 million dollars in building aid?

Need more proof? The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that their local school district plans to demolish 25 buildings starting this summer, with five of the schools being replaced through a state-funded construction program. Yes, you read that right – 25 buildings. Locals are scrambling to get the historic schools landmarked and/or under contract for others purposes to prevent demolition. Check out these photos of schools to be demolished.

Going back to the analogy of a summer car trip, we have packed up the car (we have research in hand) and we’ve headed out of town (some policy has been changed). We’re getting closer, but we’re just not quite there yet.

Before 2000, the threat was seen in a piecemeal fashion as locals struggled to save individual historic schools. The 11 Most listing placed these efforts in a larger context, helping advocates realize that they were not alone. Those same advocates also learned about the role their state governments were playing in this issue and received marching orders for policy reform thanks in part to the seminal Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School: Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl, which was released later in 2000.

The listing and the Why Johnny resource galvanized hundreds of advocates and resulted in the continued use of many historic schools across the country. They also caught the eye of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffer, Tim Torma, who realized that where communities chose to locate their schools was impacting both the number of vehicles on the road and the quality of the air we breathe. In turn, he wrote a report entitled Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting. The EPA’s interest grew beyond research. Today, there are diverse coalitions at the state level working to educate decision makers about the benefits of community-centered schools and how they can encourage more of them.

One of the reasons behind the 11 Most listing was a policy requiring a minimum number of acres for school sites. This posed one of the biggest challenges to keeping older neighborhood schools in use. Afterwards, the National Trust along with EPA, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and others urged the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) to stop recommending adoption of a “min. acreage” policy. In 2004, CEFPI reversed course and suggested that communities first evaluate their educational goals and then develop a facilities plan to accommodate those needs – much better than a one-site/size-fits-all approach.

While we’ve made strides, we need your help in reaching the ultimate destination – where older and historic schools are routinely seen as being viable for continued use. So, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the 11 Most listing of older and historic schools, here’s my list of 10 things you can do to help.

  1. Become familiar with the process of renovating, replacing, and consolidating schools in your area.
  2. Walk with or bike your kids to school at least once a week...more often if possible!
  3. Read Helping Johnny Walk to School: Policy Recommendations for Removing Barriers to Community-Centered Schools and share its finding with your local school district officials – principals of older schools, local superintendents, school board members, and the district’s school facility planner.
  4. Hold conversations with your local pediatrician about school location, rising obesity rates, and physical activity. Ask if they’ve seen the statement from the American Academy of Pediatricians that describes how the built environment affects children’s health.
  5. Help local schools apply for Safe Routes to School Funding to improve accessibility to the local historic school.
  6. Attend webinars or forums on school siting (e.g., Kentucky Safe Routes to School Partnership).
  7. List historic schools on local, state, and national registers of historic places.
  8. Write blogs and/or letters to the editor of your local newspaper touting the benefits communities receive from older and historic schools.
  9. Hold community events at historic schools to encourage others to appreciate them as much as you do.
  10. Attend public hearings and meetings to voice your support to preserve community-centered schools. Show how they can be renovated with modern technologies to be more energy efficient.

That's my list. What suggestions do you have for making sure that we "get there" soon?

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy project for the Center for State and Local Policy 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.