Civic

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.

 

Written by Timothy Hornbeck

Hudson Elementary School (1915) in Summit County

Hudson Elementary School (1915) in Summit County

During March the temperature gets warmer, the snow slowly melts and life that has been dormant throughout the winter begins to re-emerge.  Likewise, so do the dump trucks, excavators and skid steer loaders.  It was springtime in Ohio, the start of many projects to abate and demolish historic/neighborhood schools that have been abandoned for new educational facilities.

Just this year, I calculate fifteen schools built between 1909 and 1960 have been lost with more scheduled for demolition this summer and fall.  Many of these buildings were originally built as neighborhood anchors and educational legacies for future generations, but they are rapidly being replaced by campus-style facilities located on the outer edges of many communities.  These include schools like Hudson Elementary School (1915) in Summit County, which was adorned with two large sandstone plaques displaying poetic quotes; West Unity High School (1921) in Williams County with its three-story blend of red brick and sandstone accents; or even last fall's loss of Champion Avenue Middle School (1909), originally Columbus's first all African-American de facto segregated school.

West Unity High School (1921) in Williams County

West Unity High School (1921) in Williams County

Ohio has reached the halfway point of its public education facilities construction program.  Created in 1997, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) oversees this program.  The OSFC approves the individual facility project plans, provides management oversight and disperses the state's portion of funding based on a local district's property wealth.  Since 1997, more than $8 billion has been allocated to school facilities.  Overall this program is truly beneficial to Ohio's educational system, but there are some concerns.

The OSFC utilizes a "two-thirds guideline" to gauge the cost of renovation against new construction.  If the cost to renovate an existing school exceeds two-thirds the cost to build an equally sized new facility, then the OSFC recommends that the existing school be replaced.  Initially this appears to help with the decision to renovate or replace, but if you don't take a closer look, an opportunity for savings could be missed.

... Read More →

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 School of the Future is a Historic School

Posted on: May 24th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Royce A. Yeater, AIA

The model school created by the students from Roskruge Bilingual Middle School. (Photo: CEFPI)

The model school created by the students from Roskruge Bilingual Middle School. (Photo: CEFPI)

It’s a very uplifting experience, judging students who have designed their School of the Future. If you ever felt the future was looking grim, the experience of watching teams of bright and creative 6th, 7th, and 8th graders present their visions of what the school of the future should be like will buoy your spirits and make you an optimist.

Each year in April, the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) sponsors School Building Week to highlight the important role that school facilities play in shaping both our youth and the communities they serve. The highlight of the week is the School of the Future Competition that brings seven teams of young designers to Washington, DC for a week to present their visionary schools to a jury of prominent school facility experts in hope of going home with a cash prize and bragging rights to boot. The seven finalist teams are already winners when they arrive, having won regional honors in an earlier presentation to regional juries assembled by CEFPI. They come to Washington to show off their designs once more, but also to explore museums and sites of our capital city.

The participants from Roskruge Bilingual Middle School: Sabrina Garay, Adrian Ruiz, Paulina Gomez, and Jesus Ortega. (Photo: CEFPI)

The participants from Roskruge Bilingual Middle School: Sabrina Garay, Adrian Ruiz, Paulina Gomez, and Jesus Ortega. (Photo: CEFPI)

While most teams assume a blank slate is necessary for a futuristic school, this years’ competition included a team from Tucson, Arizona that focused its efforts on adapting their historic school to meet the needs of a 21st Century education. Sabrina Garay, Adrian Ruiz, Paulina Gomez, Jesus Ortega from Roskruge Bilingual Middle School applied very creative thinking to renovate their historic school. They displayed great understanding of their unique climate and its relation to life, buildings and the environment. They took the three Rs of the environmental mantra literally – “Reuse, Renew, Recycle” – to demonstrate a strong grasp of sustainable concepts. Even more remarkable was their use of simple, "real-world" solutions to rehabilitate an existing structure using green technologies. Combining fun with learning, the students designed innovative playground equipment to drive water distribution systems and create energy, and designed hanging gardens in the existing light courts of the historic school to grow fresh produce for the school cafeteria.

A current photo of Roskruge Bilingual Middle School. (Photo: Sabrina Garay)

A current photo of Roskruge Bilingual Middle School. (Photo: Sabrina Garay)

Roskruge School, was built in 1908 as a K-12 neighborhood school and served all grade levels until a new high school was built nearby in 1924. It then served as a elementary and middle school for most of the 20th century. Today as a bilingual magnet school, it draws its largely Hispanic student body from across the city, but a significant number of students live in the area and walk to school, a point that the design team made clear in their presentation to the jury. The neighborhood is alive and vital but not wealthy, and serves a largely Hispanic student body. The Spanish Baroque style school, much treasured by students and neighborhood alike, was listed in 1980 on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building in the West University Historic District of Tucson.

If these kids have anything to say about the future, older and historic schools will be a part of it, with renovations that incorporate the latest in technology and sustainable practices. Now that’s a future I am looking forward to.

Royce A. Yeater, AIA is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Midwest 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.