Civic

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.

... 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.

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.

School Location and the Rise of Childhood Obesity

Posted on: March 31st, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Students crossing the street.

Students crossing the street. (Photo: Matt Dalbey)

If you're a parent like me, you've recently fallen in love with Chef Jamie Oliver because of his television show "Food Revolution" and rooted for the new Let's Move program started by First Lady Michele Obama. Why? Because both seek to eliminate childhood obesity within this decade.

Did you know that preservation of older and historic schools also plays a role in addressing this health issue?

Most of the schools constructed today are located far from the students they serve. These distant locations offer fewer opportunities for physical activity. But older and historic schools are usually nestled in their neighborhoods where students can walk and bike to school and play after hours and on the weekends. Lack of regular physical activity has been cited as one of the causes for the rise in childhood obesity.

How big is this problem? Today, approximately nine million children over the age of six are considered obese. And over the past 30 years, rates of childhood obesity have more than tripled among children ages 6 to 11.  The F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009 report shows that the percentage of obese or overweight children is at or above 30% in 30 states.

In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that school location impacts children's physical activity levels. "Factors such as [new] school location have played a significant role in the decreased rates of walking to school, and changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school."

This is why I found myself in sunny San Diego attending the Active Living Research conference in February while the rest of the country experienced yet another massive snowstorm.

In Why Can't Johnny Walk to School: Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl, the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that minimum acreage standards encourage the closure of walkable, neighborhood schools and the construction of distant schools far from the residents they serve.  We've basically built an environment which makes it hard for our kids to be active.

So with a goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Active Living Research program provided the National Trust with a grant to understand why some states have rejected minimum acreage standards (e.g., South Carolina in 2004 and Minnesota in 2009) and if this policy change results in smaller school sites being chosen.  We're undertaking this work with transportation and land-use researchers, Noreen McDonald and David Salvesen at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

In looking at student travel patterns, researcher Noreen McDonald discovered distance from school to be one of the biggest reasons few students walk or bike to school.  And if "Johnny" and "Jane" can't walk to school, it's harder to get in their daily recommended 60 minutes of physical activity.

Community-centered schools encourage healthier families because children who live near their school can walk or bicycle to school, and can use school facilities to play and exercise when school is out.  But walkable, community-centered schools are increasingly rare. What can preservationists do to help?

The National Trust recently offered a series of policy recommendations in a new report, Helping Johnny Walk to School undertaken through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Preservationists can urge adoption of these changes—at the state and local levels—including changing to a less prescriptive method of determining the size and location of schools.  By reforming policy and practices as outlined in this report, states and localities can encourage both healthier citizens and communities.

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.

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.

Does a School’s Location Matter?

Posted on: March 22nd, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

Community-centered schools are accessible via multiple modes of transportation – including those that keep our kids active and healthy.

The short answer – absolutely.

Our nation's school districts are responsible for the education of almost 50 million public school students. Nearly all decisions about the use and location of school facilities are made by these local school districts, but the impact of their decisions goes far beyond the school and the education of its students.

A school's location has ripple effects on everything from the health of a local neighborhood to the health of its citizens. Consider this: moving a school to the outskirts of town typically means the loss of an older or historic school building, less public and private investment in a neighborhood, and lower property values. Not to mention the longer travel distances that increase the number of auto and bus trips, which in turn raise greenhouse gas emissions and busing costs.

But what about our kids? How are they affected by outskirts schools? Think of it this way – if a school is located miles and miles from the residents it serves, few students can walk or bike. With so much concern these days focused on childhood obesity, we cannot overlook this simple fact. The American Academy of Pediatrics certainly did not; in 2009, this esteemed group found that school location has “played a significant role in the decreased rates of walking to school, and changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school.”

Those of us working to maintain vital, healthy neighborhoods believe that centrally-located schools – which once were the norm – are the way to go. That’s why we’ve developed recommendations that states and localities can adopt to encourage more sensible placement of schools.

Although I’m listed as the author of Helping Johnny Walk to School: Policy Recommendations for Community-Centered Schools, the publication is a team effort of 28 experts in the fields of education, architecture, transportation, health, and real estate. We’re confident that by reforming policy and practices as outlined in this report, states and localities can strengthen public schools and reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, preserve older neighborhoods and open space, and encourage healthier citizens and communities.

By making smart policy decisions today, we can sustain our communities for future generations. We can also take big steps (pun intended) in improving the health and quality of life of our children.

Learn More About Community-Centered Schools and Download Helping Johnny Walk to School: Policy Recommendations for Community-Centered Schools »

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.

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.

Teaching Preservation: Standing Up for a Rival

Posted on: January 12th, 2010 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Kim M.

Boise High School matters, even to this cross-town rival.

Okay, I’m going to do it; I’m going to put my pride aside and, for the first time ever, I’m going to support Timberline High School’s big time in-town rival – Boise High School. It’s all worth it in the name of preservation, right?

Like many school districts, the Boise School District created a program a few years ago that was designed to make our buildings seismically safe. This program has already “fixed” multiple older schools in town, such as North Junior High and Longfellow Elementary School. Perhaps with this fall’s controversial decision to tear down Cole and Franklin Elementaries still in mind, the school district recently called a community meeting to discuss their plans for making the Boise High School auditorium safe. There were many preservation activists at the meeting, including a large contingent from our school. And, while the plan was reasonably justified, there were many questions in the room about the preservation aspects of the proposed seismic retrofit.

Bars or no bars? Decide for yourself.

So, what’s their plan? The Boise School District and Hummel Architects are planning an exoskeleton of long steel beams around the auditorium, along with multiple structural fixes on the inside. The pictures of the future auditorium look awkward, with long bars stretching from side to side and up and down. The project representatives repeatedly stressed that they want to preserve the historic architecture of the school, and that the beams would follow the original design of the auditorium with vertical and horizontal lines. However, many are skeptical if it will actually look like this when everything is said and done. Decide for yourself by imagining bars over this picture of the auditorium.  

In general, there was a lot of confusion and hostility towards the board at this meeting. After a quick introductory speech by school district representatives and Hummel Architects, some 45-60 minutes were spent answering questions about the structure, its pricing, and the safety of the students. Sherri Freemuth, the Idaho representative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told me afterwards that she was disappointed by the fact that the school board did not reveal their plan until now and that they were planning to start quickly. Many other attendees I spoke with agreed with her. While few disputed the need for safety (despite Boise being relatively earthquake free), many didn’t like how it was being done given how important this school is to the community.

Things got heated at the public meeting.

Built in 1903, Boise High School is an iconic building within our community and it plays a central role in the downtown core. After almost being destroyed in 1995 (it was saved in part as a result of community input), I feel that there is certainly an obligation to save and preserve this school yet again. The people listening to the school district’s plan were stirred up because the preservation of this school and its beautiful auditorium are being derailed in the name of a relatively inexpensive safety fix.

As far as I know, the plan is moving forward as planned and will be executed this spring, despite the fact that the project representatives said they welcome all feedback.

No matter what happens, there is a lesson to be learned here; we should always demand to have input on projects that affect the places that matter in our communities – even if that means supporting a rival.

Kim M. is a student at Boise’s Timberline High School and is participating in the Boise Architecture Project. You can follow the students here on the PreservationNation blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, get daily updates from their teacher, Doug StanWiens, on Twitter.

Are you an educator interested in teaching preservation in your classroom? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources, tips, and ideas to enhance your curriculum with lessons that will teach your students to recognize and appreciate the rich history that surrounds them.

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.