Students Bring New Vision to an Old West Virginia High School

Posted on: October 12th, 2011 by Guest Writer 1 Comment


Old Ansted High School as it appears today. (Photo: Lynn Stasick)

Written by Lynn Stasick

A Concord University student addresses the Ansted City Council. (Photo: Lynn Stasick)

Hello again from the high hills and mountains of West Virginia! As a state-wide field representative for the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV), I have been engaging students from within the West Virginia University school system to help save PAWV-listed endangered properties. Through those efforts, I had the opportunity to co-teach a class in heritage tourism last spring with friend and professor Dr. Susan Williams at Concord University in southern West Virginia.

Dr. Williams and I took 34 undergraduate students in the field to bring their talents to bear in the town of Ansted, located in Fayette County. The goal was to conduct an analysis of the Old Ansted High Schoolas part of an effort to save the building as a multi-use public facility. Presently, the city has no handicapped accessible public buildings and has to rent space. The plan is to turn the old high school into public office space, police headquarters, a twenty-first century hi-tech learning center, and - since there is already a gym – a public recreation center.

A new vision for the Old Ansted High School prepared by Concord University depicting rehabilitation possibilities.

The morning the class arrived at the school site, each student was given a disposable camera with which to establish a photographic record. Back in the classroom, they split into two groups and began to assemble a plan. One group developed a prioritized narrative needs assessment targeted toward structural rehabilitation, while the other worked on a plan for adaptive re-use.

When the project was complete, the class traveled back to Ansted one evening for a meeting with the mayor, town council, members of the police force, and concerned citizens to present their assessments and engage in an open discussion. The evening was a great success, and it was so exciting to see young people from urban, suburban, and rural America, as well as students from as far away as China engaging so well with the residents of this small, rural, West Virginia town. It was very refreshing indeed, and it was apparent that the members of the community were thankful for everyone’s efforts.

Lynn Stasick is Partners in the Field Representative with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.

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.

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Three Cheers for EPA's New School Siting Guidelines

Posted on: October 4th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Renee Kuhlman

New voluntary guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encourage local education authorities to rehabilitate existing schools whenever possible.

I just finished reading 143 pages of government guidance and I’m smiling. Nope, that’s not a misprint.

Over the week-end, EPA’s voluntary school siting guidelines were released with little fanfare. However, I believe the preservation community should pool our admittedly less-than-robust-resources to throw a big celebration.


The first-ever federal guidance on school siting offers local education authorities, tribes, and states suggestions similar to the ones that preservation organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have been making over the past decade.  This new tool:

Encourages examination of existing school facilities for rehabilitation and expansion before constructing a new school

Suggests states provide local education authorities with coordinated guidance from multiple state agencies including valuable information from State and Tribal Preservation Offices

Calls for “meaningful public participation” by stakeholder groups such as parents, teachers, school personnel and nearby residents in a transparent siting process

  • Encourages “joint use” of facilities;
  • Proposes an evaluation of existing policies and practices at local and state levels in light of these recommendations;
  • Discusses how construction of large schools on greenfields leads to “underinvestment in the community core and existing facilities” while rehabilitating existing buildings helps conserve energy and resources;
  • One of the four underlying principles states that “schools should be located in environments that contribute to the livability, sustainability, and public health of neighborhoods and communities;”
  • And more … but you’ll have to read them for yourself to believe it.

Best of all, the guidelines are written in easy-to-understand language for those of us unfamiliar with terms like “phytoremediation” and “total petroleum hydrocarbons.”

How did this new tool for community-centered schools come about?

In December 2007, Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).1 Among the provisions included in the Act was a requirement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop, in consultation with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, model guidelines for the siting of school facilities that take into account:

  • The special vulnerabilities of children to hazardous substances or pollution exposures in any case in which the potential for contamination at a potential school site exists;
  • The modes of transportation available to students and staff;
  • The efficient use of energy; and
  • The potential use of a school at the site as an emergency shelter.

During the public comment period, many preservation organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, provided useful suggestions on how these voluntary guidelines could help sustain our older communities.

I, for one, think they succeeded.

But here’s where the hard work begins.  These voluntary guidelines are just that – voluntary.  The preservation community needs to take the next step and help states, tribes and local education authorities – those entities with responsibility for decision-making regarding school buildings and operations – adopt and implement these guidelines during a time when school districts and state agencies are struggling with shrinking budgets and staff.

To learn more about the EPA’s voluntary siting guidelines and other new tools, join a Fall Webinar Series called "Expanding the School Siting Conversation."

October 11 1:00pm EST 10:00am PST Location, Location, Location: New Guidance for Locating Schools in a Healthy, Sustainable Way
October 18 2:00pm EST 11:00am PST State Strategies for School Siting; Locating Schools for Better Health, Environmental, and Fiscal Outcomes
October 25 2:00pm EST 11:00am PST The Environmental Justice and Preservation Concerns of School Siting
November 1 2:00pm EST 11:00am PST A Live Chat on School Siting and Community-Centered Schools

Tomorrow, October 5, is Walk to School Day. While walking my daughter the four blocks to her 1960s elementary school, I’ll be thinking about how these new guidelines will help encourage the preservation and creation of other walkable schools.

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School project and is thrilled to report on this latest tool for encouraging more 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.

Preservation Round-Up: Underneath the Overgrowth Edition

Posted on: September 29th, 2011 by David Garber 1 Comment


This might look cool (okay, or just really creepy) but it can be quite bad for the exterior building materials. (Photo: Flickr user flavor32)

You've seen houses like this before. The ones absolutely covered with ivy or other climbing vines - or the houses with neatly cropped, almost topiary-esque, greenery growing on the exterior brick, stone, or stucco. There's usually about one per neighborhood. Problem is, those vines can take quite the toll on old and historic buildings.

See what Old House Web has to say on the subject: "In the thrill of seeing such lovely ivy on my house, I made the classic mistake of not thinking about what was happening underneath it. That would be the tendrils creeping into every crack they could find in the brick, shimmying under the neighboring clapboard, and wrecking havoc underneath the lovely green blanket."

What are your thoughts on replacing superblocks with traditional street grids? Now, what if that means the demolition of a "historic" garden-style development? Activists in LA are decrying plans for a new mixed-use, LEED-certified, walkable development in favor of saving the superblock. Whaddya think? Is it worth it?

Historic Boston Incorporated recently completed renovations at on their new offices inside the old Dudley Square neighborhood firehouse. Check out the amazingly awesome fence they're building for it.

Speaking of awesome things... a young couple in San Antonio has begun renovations on an old house in the Dignowity Hill neighborhood. Why is this news? Because this renovation is the best of old and new, and, well, this whole "fixing up old houses in old neighborhoods" thing is a trend that just keeps giving. And there's a cool slideshow.

Good Buffalo news! "What many thought would surely see the landfill has had nothing short of a rebirth. St. Vincent's Orphanage stands as an incredible example of historic preservation near the brink of loss." Read this great account of how a high school is moving into the old St. Vincent's orphanage.

The Washington City Paper has an interesting piece on the next frontier of historic preservation. "...As time progresses, the definition of what we consider 'historic' also changes. That window is usually understood as about 50 years, which puts us in the early 1960s already." Is DC's Southwest Waterfront, a textbook example of urban renewal, the city's next historic district?

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team 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.

In Parallel with Rosenwald: Delaware’s DuPont Colored Schools

Posted on: August 30th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Libbie Hawes

The Buttonwood Colored School in New Castle County, Delaware was built in 1924 and expanded to a two-room facility in 1934. It was recently rehabilitated to serve as a community center. (Photo: Walter Gallas)

The National Trust’s Rosenwald Schools Initiative has had a great impact on the preservation of African American schools in the South. In Delaware, the duPont schools offer another example of a prominent philanthropist’s effort to provide educational facilities to African American students.

As reform swept the nation’s social institutions in the early 1900s, philanthropists were inspired to leverage their private wealth into public service. While Julius Rosenwald famously established a network of African American schools in the south, a reluctant Delaware Board of Education found a champion in entrepreneur Pierre S. duPont. Leaving behind his positions as chair of the General Motors Corporation and president of E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, duPont focused his attention and resources on the improvement of school facilities in the state of Delaware. There is no concrete evidence Rosenwald and duPont exchanged ideas, but compared in retrospect, their endeavors were remarkably parallel.

In the late 18th century, few educational opportunities existed for either African American or European American citizens in Delaware. Limited initiatives by religious organizations set up a small number of schools. In 1829, the Act of Free Schools provided public education, but even after the Civil War, taxes levied on both white and black citizens supported schools for white students only.

The Delaware Association for the Moral Improvement and Education of Colored People was created in 1867, but African American settlements primarily relied on self-help and charity to establish educational facilities. Land and materials were acquired with contributions from local churches. The modest one to two story wood frame structures with single classrooms were built with community-based labor.

The Booker T. Washington School in New Castle County, Delaware is a two-room school built in 1923 for grades one through eight. It was rehabilitated in 2005 with additions for use as the New Castle Senior Center. (Photo: Walter Gallas)

A series of state legislative efforts segregated social and economic systems at the end of the 19th century. Nevertheless, public education for African Americans was formally recognized. Meanwhile, established community schools suffered as industrialization took a toll on Delaware’s agricultural economy, leaving little resources for social programs. In 1917, Federal Bureau of Education report exposed the state’s low literacy rate, low teacher’s salaries and deteriorating school facilities.

The report prompted reform supporters to form the Service Citizens of Delaware in 1918. Funded by Pierre duPont and led by James Odell, the organization was part of a national movement to assimilate immigrants and naturalized American citizens, including the improvement of schools for African American students. The group lobbied for a new school code to establish equal tax rates and dispersal of revenue. The Service Citizens employed experts from Columbia University to conduct a survey of existing conditions.

DuPont established the Delaware Auxiliary Association to oversee the construction of new schools with recommendations from the survey team. Although he contributed funding for both white and black schools in Delaware, opposition to the equal distribution resources caused duPont to prioritize the construction and upgrade of African American schools. Ultimately, 91 duPont schools were built or improved in African American settlements, 1922-1925.

The Auxiliary Association hired architect James Oscar Betelle, who based his school designs on educational reform ideas of the period. Theorist John Dewey influenced the work of reform architects, emphasizing healthy conditions and adequate facilities as key factors in educational success. Betelle’s plans reflected the comforts of residential structures, with popular characteristics of colonial and other revival styles. The cottage-like buildings were designed in both symmetrical and asymmetrical plans with gable roofs, clad in shingles or clapboard. Architectural details included porticos with pediments supported by columns. Large banks of wide sash windows capitalized on light and ventilation. Interiors ranged from one to three rooms with moveable furniture for realization of reform teaching and learning practices.

A 1997 survey found about 55 extant schools in various states of use and condition, from ruin to active community center.  Part II of this article will explore three examples of how Delaware’s duPont schools are used today.

Libbie Hawes is a Program Assistant in the Northeast Field Office of 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 Brian Fellows

A new tool developed by the Arizona Safe Routes to School program measures the "walkability" of older schools and their surrounding "feeder neighborhoods."  (Photo: Arizona Safe Routes to School)

A new tool developed by the Arizona Safe Routes to School program measures the "walkability" of older schools and their surrounding "feeder neighborhoods." (Photo: Arizona Safe Routes to School)

The Active School Neighborhood Checklist (ASNC) is the newest way to assess the community value of a school. The checklist allows users to score any school site and its “feeder neighborhoods” based on how well they allow and encourage people  to be mobile by foot or by bicycle.

Older and historic schools have a special value to the community. They often have well-documented benefits: economic, cultural, and increased home values. This new tool adds a new one: mobility and physical activity ‘propensity’ – the probability that kids have the chance of getting physical activity.

The checklist  was born out of the federal Safe Routes To School program. The goal of SRTS is to make it safer and easier for children to walk and bicycle to school. As SRTS coordinators, one phenomenon we battle everyday is kids’ inability to walk to school – or anywhere – because it’s too far. We can solve many problems with SRTS strategies and competitive grant funding – such as pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure (i.e., sidewalks and bike lanes), law enforcement support, safety education, and fun events. But excessive distances are nearly unconquerable.

Once a school is built far away from the existing student body – or on the flip side, homes are built far from an existing school – there’s nothing we can do to physically shorten this insidious gap. This kind of school siting has helped contribute to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has proclaimed.

The logic behind this new tool  is that the built environment – streets, traffic, sidewalks, crossings – either can allow or prevent people from getting physical activity (e.g., walking or bicycling). The checklist  quantifies the presence of things that make it safer and easier to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist. It also quantifies the lack of infrastructure, programs, and policies – both physical or other kinds of barriers.

For instance, did you know that people drive slower on narrow streets than they do on wider streets?  Or that drivers will drive faster around corners that are ‘sweeping’ rather than ‘tight’?  Or that cul-de-sacs create longer walking distances for everyone?  Or that a school that fronts onto two streets likely will have less traffic than one that fronts onto only one?  Together, all of these paint a picture of the neighborhood. Every neighborhood has its own picture: anything from a Van Gogh to a black-velvet Elvis.

School siting decisions have always been made with the primary criterion being land cost. The goal of creating the ASNC was to give communities and school siting professionals another tool for selecting new school sites, as well as to gauge the value of existing schools.

When a school is closed, a huge hole is often left in its place. This measurement tool  gives us  another way to judge whether or not a school should be closed; another way to ask the question: “Would building that new school out in the ‘burbs really solve all of our problems?  Or would it just cause new problems?”

I invite you to try out the ASNC. If you’d like to follow the recommended process of building a multidisciplinary team, performing a walking site assessment (a “walkabout”), and then answering the ASNC questions, please feel free. However, if you haven’t built your teams yet, just use “place-holders” in place of actual team member names when the system prompts you to add the names.

ASNC instructions:

  1. Go to
  2. Outside-of-Arizona users will need to click on “Not on this list?” and provide the information for the school you’d like to add.
  3. Click on “Submit request”. We’ll notify you when we’ve approved your request and you can begin your survey.

Brian Fellows is the Safe Routes To School Program Coordinator for the State of Arizona. He is also involved with the development of the STAR Community Sustainability Rating System.

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

Seattle's King Street Station Gets a New Plaza

Posted on: June 30th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Ric Cochrane

Residents and travellers admiring the new plaza and seating area. (Photo: Ric Cochrane)

Last Friday, the Green Lab attended the grand opening of the new Jackson Plaza at King Street Station. Jackson Plaza’s restoration marks a major milestone for the multi-year renovation of this iconic train depot that is being restored as the transportation hub of downtown Seattle. Built between 1904 and 1906, the depot is a Seattle landmark. Its 242-foot tower was modeled after Campanile di San Marco in Venice, Italy, and it was the tallest building in Seattle at the time of its construction. Jackson Plaza was always meant to be an arrival point for the depot, but as the depot fell into disrepair, the concrete and asphalt decking of the plaza was blocked off and the steel supporting beams rusted through - not exactly the welcoming plaza it was intended to be!

Now restored to its original function as a transition from the bustle of the city and Pioneer Square, the renovated plaza is a city-wide cause for celebration. King Street Station is the anchor for the entire South Downtown area, which includes Pioneer Square, the Chinatown/International District, and the Stadium North Lot - which is being redeveloped by Daniels Development as a mixed-use community that will bring new residents and businesses to what is now a massive parking lot for CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. Restoration of the plaza is a boon to the entire neighborhood.

It's hard to believe that this is what the "plaza" used to look like! (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

The grand opening ceremony was attended by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (arriving, as always, by bicycle); Linda Gehrke, Deputy Regional Administrator, Federal Transit Administration; Lorne McConachie, Chair of the Pioneer Square Preservation Board; and Leslie Smith of the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

“The investment in historic King Street Station is part of Seattle’s transit future,” Mayor McGinn said. “King Street Station will feature Amtrak long distance rail, Sound Transit commuter rail and Amtrak intercity coaches, along with access to Sound Transit light rail, Metro buses and the future First Hill Streetcar, all within walking distance of several Seattle neighborhoods.”

Seeing people strolling and sitting in the new plaza, with crushed limestone under foot and a noncommittal sun teasing the assembled crowd, it’s easy to envision the plaza once again being a gathering point, a place for sad goodbyes and happy reunions, as well as a neighborhood amenity for the office tenants, residents, and tourists that fill Pioneer Square each day.

The plaza has been rebuilt to current seismic codes and has been converted into a true pedestrian zone - increasing public and green space in Pioneer Square. Buried under the plaza are 36 geothermal wells supplying heating and cooling to the first floor of King Street Station. Granite was salvaged from an old building foundation to repair the granite balustrade that flanks the plaza and form new seating benches. The plaza was deconstructed instead of demolished, allowing for 98 percent of material to be recycled.

The construction cost for this phase of the King Street Station Restoration Project was about $15 million and was financed in partnership with the above agencies and funding sources. The next major milestone is in early September with the reopening of the fully rehabilitated grand staircase linking Jackson Plaza to the track-level station entrance on King Street. The Green Lab is writing a detailed case study of the energy efficiency retrofit strategies being employed to bring the station up to a performance level 50 percent better than average buildings with similar programs – all while preserving and restoring the remarkable character of the station.

Congratulations to the City of Seattle – as well as its partners and funding agencies - for this wonderful accomplishment!

See more photos at the Seattle Department of Transportation's website.

Ric Cochrane is a Project Manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab.

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.