Civic

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.

Our Living Legacy: Saving Colorado's Historic Schools

Posted on: January 6th, 2010 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Written by Jenny Buddenborg

 

Historic schools are community assets. That's the message Colorado Preservation, Inc. (CPI) is taking to school districts across Colorado.

Through their historic schools survey project, CPI combed the Centennial State to inventory schools still owned by school districts, completing reconnaissance-level surveys for those more than 50 years old. Using this information, they commissioned a film (excerpt available above), "Our Living Legacy: Colorado's Historic Schools," featuring six historic schools that underwent successful rehabilitations. The goal? To demonstrate that older and historic schools can be rehabilitated to meet today's educational standards, save capital costs, eliminate indirect costs of sprawl, and be a source of community pride. 

A copy of the film has been distributed to every school district in the state, along with publications from the Council of Educational Facility Planners International on how to successfully renovate older and historic school facilities. CPI also went on the road to publicly unveil the film to communities across the state. Cities and towns opened their doors – some even baked pies. All gave a lot of positive feedback.

What compelled CPI to take on such a project? In 1998, the State of Colorado agreed to spend $190 million over 11 years through the Public School Capital Construction Grant Program to address the most critical capital needs of public schools across the state. Although intended to address the significant need for maintenance and repair of school facilities in less affluent communities, school districts with the capacity to write the best grant applications actually received more grants than those for which the program was created.

In response, CPI partnered with the Donnell-Kay Foundation to pass a bill in the 2007 state legislature that required a portion of the funds to be directed to school districts with the smallest enrollments and the most dire building conditions. The bill also required that "rehabilitation" be given greater priority over "replacement" in grant applications, and that the Advisory Committee for Public School Capital Construction include a member with architectural expertise in school rehabilitations.

Despite this victory, one of the biggest obstacles to successfully administering the fund remained; the State Board of Education had no idea which school districts to target for assistance because they had no comprehensive list of public school facilities, much less any knowledge of the condition of the structures. This list was needed before any informed decisions could be made. Thus, CPI developed its historic schools survey. With funding from the Colorado Historical Society's State Historical Fund and the Donnell-Kay Foundation, CPI set out to develop the inventory while simultaneously encouraging communities to apply for the grant program for historic school rehabilitation.

As the project wraps up, CPI's efforts have already been positively received. With several existing examples of historic school rehabilitations in Colorado, they hope that their historic schools survey project will spur similar work across the state and perhaps the country.

Jenny Buddenborg is a program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Mountains/Plains Office. Visit PreservationNation.org to learn more about what the National Trust is doing to protect older and historic neighborhood 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.

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.

Historic and Modern, DC's School Without Walls is the Best of Both Worlds

Posted on: August 3rd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

Written by Kaitlin Dastugue

The 1897 side of School Without Walls.

The 1893 side of School Without Walls.

Preservationists and neighbors are often charged with making the case for saving historic schools as many outdated and seemingly arbitrary school facilities standards favor destroying an older neighborhood school to build a larger, institutional mega-structure on the far outskirts of town.

Last week, my fellow State and Local Policy intern, Mika, and I, set out to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated School without Walls, a DC public high school. Armed with literature on school siting and weeks of advocating for historic buildings, we were curious to see an act of historic preservation in the flesh: what educational experience could a historic school offer over new construction? This was a unique chance to see how one community transformed their dilapidated brick school building located in the heart of the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and George Washington University (GWU) into a state-of–the-art high school facility.

All the arguments for rehabilitating older schools over building new ones rang true: they are traditionally smaller—a trait many education scholars attribute to a healthy learning environment. They also anchor neighborhoods, provide facilities for community use, and give students the opportunity to walk or take public transit to school.

The connection between the old and new buildings.

The connection between the old and new buildings.

At the opening of the renovated School without Walls, named for its distinctive mission to foster learning outside of the classroom through its partnership with GWU, there was a feeling of eager anticipation from the students, families, faculty, and neighbors -- all whom had gathered to view the long awaited transformation. After remarks from Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor of Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, the doors were opened to the public. Oohs, ahs, and the occasional “sweet dude, check this out!” filled the tall glass-clad entryway of the new addition. The exposed exterior brick of the original 1893 building, which now took on the role as an interior wall, served as a perfect threshold between the renovated old school building and the new addition.

The classrooms of the original building provided an ideal space for 21st century learning—the large rooms granted ample space for multipurpose uses, high ceilings and large windows flooded the classrooms with natural light (while saving energy, mind you), and the new finishing of the original hardwood floors and other architectural details created a beautiful, inviting space -- the kind of school Chancellor Rhee affirmed would get children excited about coming to school and the kind of world-class facility that could help them achieve.

I caught up with Principal Architect Sean O'Donnell of the firm EE &K charged with this project. He spoke of both the challenges and the benefits that came with working with an historic school building. He also helped debunk many of the myths that come with the territory such as the belief that older schools can’t meet 21st century educational and technological needs. He believed that School Without Walls “attests to the fact that a 19th century school can foster an innovative pedagogy—new construction wouldn’t have that same opportunity.”

Exploring the renovated classroom space.

Exploring the renovated classroom space.

The goal was to ensure that School Without Walls fit nicely into the fabric of the rest of GWU's campus and that the collaborative partnership between the university and high school did not stop at the programmatic level. O'Donnell feels confidant that the technology available and the spaces created in School Without Walls are ones where any University professor who is accustomed to state-of-the-art facilities can walk into and immediately feel at ease.

As the school aims for its LEED gold certification, many of the original aspects of the old building are scoring automatic points: it’s location on transit, large windows that allow plentiful daylight, reuse of historic fabric, and its shared parking facilities with the University.

Kudos to DCPS, EE & K, and School Without Walls for their innovative design and approach—hopefully, many others may follow your lead.

Kaitlin Dastugue is an intern in the State and Local Policy office 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.