Civic

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.

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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.

Taking the “School Siting Matters” Message on the Road

Posted on: May 11th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Royce Yeater, AIA

Some communities are using "walking school buses" to encourage more students to walk and bike to school.

Some communities are using "walking school buses" to encourage more students to walk and bike to school. (Photo: Matt Dalbey)

On April 12, I spoke with three other panelists before a small group of school board officials about why school location matters at their national conference in Chicago.  During the session, we explained our concerns about the effects of remote school siting on the livability of our communities and the health of our children to this interested audience.

The National School Boards Association felt that school siting was an important topic to cover but only a dozen or so showed up to hear how school location affects the health of children and the health of the local community.

As you know, preservationists have been working to keep schools at the centers of the communities they serve for many years.  The National Trust, in collaboration with an advisory group, recently offered suggestions for policy reform in Helping Johnny Walk to School.

So I framed the topic by talking about the convergence of our interest in retaining older and historic schools, which are often in central, walkable locations, with those wanting to encourage more active transportation in order to help fight the obesity epidemic and reduce vehicle miles traveled.

Then, Matt Dalbey from the Smart Growth program of the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that their agency is close to issuing draft voluntary school location guidelines for public comment.  These guidelines are designed to help encourage schools that are healthy for the student and sited in such a way as to help reduce green house gas emissions.  Matt also discussed the challenge of balancing the desire to find a site free of contaminants and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by locating schools on remote sites.

After Matt spoke, Heather Schady, the program manager for the Illinois Safe Routes to School Partnership (SRTS) and Active Transportation Alliance, outlined how they are working to make walking to school safer and more feasible.  She showed the decline in the number of children walking to school in 2001 (16%) compared to the number who walked in 1969 (46%). She blamed this decline on a reduction in the number of schools and the increased size of school sites which basically helped take schools out of neighborhoods.  Schady encouraged school boards to reverse this trend through more coordinated planning with municipal officials.

To help school boards understand the impact of their siting decisions on student health, Sara Zimmerman, a senior staff attorney with the National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Oakland, CA, indicated the absence of physical exercise as a part of daily routines is a major contributor to the obesity trend.  She also stressed the fact that walking to school provides daily exercise without taking time from the school day, and actually enhances educational performance.

Zimmerman also noted that one school bus costs about the same as a teacher but adds nothing to the learning process.  She suggested redirecting busing dollars into the classroom by locating schools within neighborhoods.

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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.

Ten Good Reasons to Show Historic Schools Some Love

Posted on: April 27th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman  

The three-story Albemarle High School Building has been a part of the small community of Albemarle, North Carolina since 1924, and is conveniently located in a residential neighborhood just one block from the central business district. Despite initial opposition from the school board, the community rallied support to save this building from demolition and to renovate it as the Central Elementary School in 2002. Local residents believe the renovation has contributed to the continued vitality of this rural community. (Photo: Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation)

Today is Historic Schools Day, which is part of School Building Week, an annual program organized by the Council of Educational Facility Planners. To celebrate, I thought I’d start a conversation about the many reasons why we love our older and historic schools.  

Here’s my top ten (in no particular order).  

Reason #1 – They’re old. Yes, that’s right – we love them because they have served and continue to educate our students. From the worn grooves on their staircases to their old-fashioned lockers, these buildings simply exude history.  

Reason #2 – We like how they look. We love admiring their architecture, which has been enjoyed by generations before us.  

Reason #3 – We like where they’re located. We think being able to walk and bike to school is pretty cool, not to mention the fact that it’s great for the environment.  

Reason #4 – We like their “compact build” (small footprint, multiple stories, etc.), which allow them to be nestled in our neighborhoods.  

Reason #5 – We appreciate the workmanship and long-lasting materials that went into them. We like walking on their gleaming terrazzo floors and appreciate the longevity of their slate roofs.  

Reason #6 – We think the schools’ civic design and prominent placement shows how much education was – and is – valued by community members.  

Reason #7 – We like wondering about the generations who came before us. Did the folks in those old class photos have as much trouble in high school as I did? Did we take math in the same classroom? Did I use their locker?  

Reason #8 – We enjoy seeing our neighbors there – whether it’s to vote, to enjoy a potluck supper, or to walk around the track after hours.  

Reason # 9 – We appreciate the care that has gone into maintaining the building…even more so now that we’re older ourselves.  

Reason #10 – We like that they are true centers of community.  

I know these aren’t all of the reasons. Take a moment to celebrate Historic Schools Day by telling us what you appreciate about the older and historic schools in your town. Need some inspiration? We hear dusting off those old yearbooks really helps to get the wheels turning.  

Renee Kuhlman is the director of special projects for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Center for State and Local Policy. The National Trust undertook the “Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities Through Smart Policy” project through a cooperative agreement with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   

Want to learn more? Click here to download the recently-released "Helping Johnny Walk to School: Policy Recommendations for Community-Centered Schools."

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

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.