Civic

Getting Smart About School Siting and Rehabilitation in Georgia

Posted on: June 13th, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by John Kissane

As seems to be the case elsewhere in the United States, Georgia lacks an exemplary track record of progressive thinking when it comes to siting new schools and making decisions regarding the treatment of older schools. Historic preservation advocates have expressed concerns for historic schools in Georgia for years, but although there have been isolated success stories, the overall picture is not pretty.

Oconee Street School, Athens, Georgia. This c. 1908 building was taken out of service as a school in 1975 and the neighborhood that surrounds it subsequently became transitory, dominated by housing occupied by University of Georgia students. The building currently houses a non-profit agency. (Photo: John Kissane)

When the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Neighborhood Historic Schools on the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, Alexander II Elementary in Macon, Georgia was chosen to represent all of the endangered schools in the southeast. Renovated in 2002-2003, the school now serves as an example for the region of how older buildings can remain in use and function effectively.

In 2003, the Preserving Georgia’s Historic Schools report from the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office determined that deferred maintenance was the primary threat to the state’s historic school buildings. Why is maintenance being deferred? Money, or lack thereof, is one answer - but that’s only partially correct. Also at play is the often incorrect assumption that new construction is more cost-effective than rehabilitation.

There’s also the fact that certain areas of our state have experienced phenomenal population growth and - until just recently - economic expansion while other parts of the state are struggling to survive. In both area situations, those working to preserve historic school buildings face uphill battles.

Georgia’s “Helping Johnny Walk to School” project began when GeorgiaBikes! (the statewide bike/ped nonprofit) and the Georgia Safe Routes to School State Network received one of the grants made available through the National Trust in its cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We established a Steering Committee which started looking at state policies and practices that impacted two things: retaining historic school buildings as schools and siting new schools in locations that allow them to function as community centers rather than isolated outposts.

Our project was fortunate to participate in a survey conducted last summer by David Salvesen of the Center for Sustainable Community Design at UNC-Chapel Hill and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The survey was distributed to school superintendents, school board members, school facility planners and a variety of others, all of whom play some role in the school facility planning process. A total of 204 surveys were completed.

What did the preliminary findings reveal about school closings in Georgia? The number one survey response was that closings happen primarily due to the desire to construct new facilities. The second was that new construction is seen as a money-saving measure over rehabilitation. Ranking third was that reductions in enrollment have pushed school districts to close some of their schools.

We found the following expanded survey response of particular interest:

“While our systems are building new schools, we have turned most of our efforts into rehabilitating and renovating existing facilities with an eye toward greater sustainability. Limited new sites and the price of land have made it more practical to reinvest in existing facilities rather than build new.

However, our state funding program and state guidelines are more conducive to building new schools and are in need of revisions to reflect the need to reuse existing facilities where appropriate."

This type of response suggests that rehabilitation possibilities are being considered and acted upon at the local level, but that state policies are discouraging such action.

David C. Barrow Elementary School, Athens, Georgia. Constructed in 1923, Barrow School is a much-loved neighborhood resource and began the first Safe Routes to School efforts in Athens several years ago. Athens is one Georgia city that has mostly succeeded in maintaining its older school buildings and keeping them in use as schools. (Photo: John Kissane)

As a result of the findings, our recommendations include suggestions that policies such as minimum acreage requirements and minimum school enrollments be eliminated. We also encourage local government participation in school site selection, as well as expanding opportunities for joint use of school facilities. These recommendations constitute the concluding section of a school siting white paper prepared through our project this spring.

To encourage discussion, the Steering Committee encouraged a symposium on the topic of school siting. The Atlanta Regional Commission is now spearheading the planning for a school siting symposium to be held in late September or October of this year.

Planning partners for the symposium include GeorgiaBikes!, the Georgia Conservancy, the Georgia Safe Routes to School Regional Network, Mothers & Others for Clean Air, the Civic League for Metro Atlanta, Dan Drake, a School Planner, and Laura Searcy, a Nurse Practitioner.

This one-day gathering will bring together decision makers, school and local government officials, state agencies, and advocacy groups to learn about factors currently influencing school siting decisions in Georgia. Together, we’ll discuss the ramifications of those decisions and ways to improve school siting practices through local, regional, and state level policies and actions.

Stay tuned…

John Kissane is a consultant to Georgia Bikes! and resident of Athens, Georgia. He cares deeply about the vitality of Georgia’s neighborhoods and believes well sited schools are a critical component.

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.

Student Designers Give Historic Ballfield and Mill New Lives

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Renee Kuhlman

I recently saw some amazing designs generated by kids from middle schools across the country during the 2011 School of the Future Design Competition. This competition, hosted by Council for Educational Facility Planners International in honor of School Building Week, is fiercely competitive with regional competitions leading up to the big finale in Washington, DC. The six finalists were all impressive, but the two that made me stand up and cheer were the designs from Heritage Middle School (Wake Forest, North Carolina) and Seneca Middle School (Macomb, Michigan). Why? Because they used the preservation concept of adaptive use in their designs—from the famous but now gone Tiger Stadium in Detroit to the Glen Royal Mills building. Check out their stories.

Ben Malian, Seneca Middle School Student, Macomb, Michigan

Macomb, Michigan students reused the historic ballfield from Tiger Stadium as the center of their school of the future. This “hallowed ground” would once again host athletic activities and would be surrounded by classrooms, dorms, and gardens. (Photo: Seneca Middle School Design Team)

Macomb, Michigan students reused the historic ballfield from Tiger Stadium as the center of their school of the future. This “hallowed ground” would once again host athletic activities and would be surrounded by classrooms, dorms, and gardens. (Photo: Seneca Middle School Design Team)

You may wonder why middle school students would choose an old major league baseball park to build a school of the future. This is because to us and our fellow Detroiters, this is not just an ordinary ballpark. It is hallowed ground to many of us. Tiger Stadium opened on April 12, 1912. This date may ring a bell because it was the same day that Fenway Park in Boston opened and it was also the tragic day of the sinking of the Titanic. Although the stadium is almost one hundred years old and has been demolished for two years, the land is still cared for by Detroiters who play baseball on it today. They also do all the landscaping and still raise the flag in center field. To pay back for the kind deeds these people have done for the ballpark, we decided to use this hallowed ground to build a school of the future in a district that has its own share of educational issues.

Children of Detroit often struggle socially and educationally. We felt that by combining an urban recovery project with a school of the future would only have positive outcomes. We really focused on the test scores and attendance rates of Detroit students and compared them to Japanese children. The Japanese students had much higher scores and attendance due to the length and attendance of the school year as well as the curriculum. Can you imagine how attendance rates at the school could improve if students knew their school was built on the grounds of Tiger Stadium?  We tried to incorporate this along with teaching students to live a happy and healthy life.

Tiger Stadium is a place that does not deserve to be left abandoned or forgotten. It should be cared for and loved by all Detroiters and people in the surrounding area.

The Heritage Middle School Design Team, Wake Forest, North Carolina

Wake Forest, NC students reused the historic Glen Royal Mills building for their “school of the future.” To incorporate the school into the community they designed a café, study hall, library, and fitness trail to be used by both students and residents. (Photo: Heritage Middle School Design Team)

Wake Forest, NC students reused the historic Glen Royal Mills building for their “school of the future.” To incorporate the school into the community they designed a café, study hall, library, and fitness trail to be used by both students and residents. (Photo: Heritage Middle School Design Team)

Geographically, Wake Forest is ideal for a School of the Future. Our rapidly-growing town is overflowing with history, potential, and innovation. We decided that to use existing resources and save money we would retrofit an existing structure for our School of the Future. Our research of the Wake Forest Community led us to the historic Glen Royal Mills building. Greatly influenced by Glen Royal Mills distinct brick exterior, we were led to a retro-modern interior design theme. The interior is overflowing with eclectic and timeless features such as the furniture, paint, flooring, lighting, and the green aspects. We incorporated more than just basic eco-friendly additions, such as LED lighting, low VOC paints, natural lighting, and cork flooring but also more recent and innovative pieces such as recycled aluminum chairs, Solatubes, a green roof, transitional classrooms and rain barrels that collect rainfall to provide gray water for our gardens and toilets.

Another key feature of our school is its power generation capabilities. Three alternative energy sources are all generated on campus and routed through our own “power plant.” We were inspired to use passive and active solar power from a recent S.T.E.M club field trip to the NC State Solar House, which is a complete eco-home equipped with a state-of-the-art solar system. Our most prominent power source is our solar track, which is integrated with photovoltaic material that soaks in solar energy. Also included are solar awnings and wind power from wind mills. In addition, we heat and cool our building with a ground source geothermal HVAC system.

To better incorporate our school into the community landscape the building features several areas that the public will be invited to use. The café and study hall are spacious and relaxed areas in which the local population can enjoy a healthy and affordable meal or just take advantage of a comfortable and quiet learning environment. The community can also visit the fitness trail located in the central-park-inspired arboretum that has several fitness stations set with exercise equipment. The library, which is also a local branch of the Wake County Public Library system, allows residents to access books, Kindles, computers and other materials. Accessibility features such as elevators, ramps, and handicap-accessible buses are available for disabled individuals and elderly visitors.

A colleague of mine was also impressed when I related these stories – he remarked “these kids understand preservation and its importance to a community better than our own generation.” Don’t know about you, but seeing their designs made me feel very optimistic about the future planning of our schools and our communities.

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School program which emphasizes that schools can help meet many community goals such as sustaining surrounding neighborhoods and downtowns, increasing active transportation, and being a place where residents can gather.

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 Sonjia Weinstein

The front of South Elementary (Photo: Sonjia Weinstein)

Back in 1936, first grader Harvey Brannon sat on the windowsill of Lander, Wyoming’s one room schoolhouse during lunchtime and watched the new Lander Grade School being built, brick by brick. Watching the artistry and pride with which Lander Grade School was constructed inspired Harvey to become a union bricklayer for 30 years of his adult life. Now, 75 years later, Harvey may witness the demolition of that school building, which is now called South Elementary School. On May 27, South Elementary is scheduled to close its doors - not just for the summer - but forever. Demolition is scheduled to begin at the end of May.

South Elementary is a rare example of Art Deco architecture in Fremont County. The original structure was completed in 1937 as part of the Public Works Administration, a program designed to create employment opportunities during the Great Depression. South Elementary is one of only three New Deal schools remaining in Wyoming. Distinctive features include mosaic brickwork of children reading and terra cotta bas-relief sculptures on the facade. The Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office has declared that South Elementary is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the terra cotta bas-relief sculptures on the facade (Phot: Sonjia Weinstein)

In 2003, the Wyoming School Facilities Commission (SFC), the state agency in charge of ensuring that communities across the state are provided equal resources for educational facilities, declared that North Elementary and South Elementary in Lander needed to be replaced. At the time a cost benefit analysis system used by the SFC determined that the cost to renovate the schools was more than 60% of the cost to build new, which provided reason for the schools to be replaced.

Two years later, the local school board voted to reconfigure its schools, combining the three small elementary schools into a K-3 school, a 4th-5th grade school and moving 6th grade into middle school. As part of this decision, it was determined that South Elementary would be demolished to reuse the site for a new K-3 school. People within the community immediately raised concerns for the historic value of South Elementary, but were told that the SFC would not pay for renovation. Since then, the SFC has changed its policies, purportedly taking historic value into account in the current matrix system.

Distinctive mosaic brickwork shows children reading. (Photo: Sonjia Weinstein)

Over the past year, efforts to save South Elementary intensified and culminated with a petition to the school board to support actions to preserve the original 1937 portion of the building. More than 450 community members, including Harvey Brannon, signed the petition and submitted it to the school board in November 2010. And a citizen group called Save South Elementary was created.

Despite this show of public support, the school board voted unanimously to proceed with plans to demolish South Elementary. They refused to allow a condition assessment and rehabilitation cost estimate of the original 1937 structure even though the study could have been done at little to no cost to the school district through grant funding. The school board based the decision to continue with demolition on the 2005 decision to reconfigure schools, without regard to changes in the SFC policy or the concerns of the community for the historic value of the 1937 New Deal school.

Although the school board and superintendent are set on their demolition decision, a demolition permit has yet to be issued and SFC funds yet to be allocated. There is still time to reach out to the SFC and City of Lander asking that a study be conducted on the feasibility of preserving and using the original 1937 South Elementary School. Please join Save South Elementary in speaking out for preservation of this part of our nation’s history by signing our petition.

Wyoming’s Historic Schools have been nominated as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places in 2011. South Elementary School was part of the impetus for this nomination. The 2011 11 Most Endangered List will be announced on June 15. See the National Trust’s Historic Neighborhood Schools Initiative website for tips and information about protecting these important community assets.

Sonjia Weinstein lives in Lander, Wyoming and leads the advocacy efforts of Save South Elementary.

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.

A Modernist Masterpiece at Grave Risk in New Orleans

Posted on: May 10th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Brad Vogel

Phillis Wheatley Elementary is emblematic of a regional modernism seen in New Orleans. The hyper-cantilevered, elevated structure served the functional purpose of providing shaded place space for school children. Despite outcry from supporters, the building is in imminent danger of demolition. (Photo: Brad Vogel)

Phillis Wheatley Elementary is no stranger to the improbable. Designed by New Orleans architect Charles Colbert and built in 1954, the elevated steel truss school building cantilevers crazily out from concrete piers, hovering in symmetrical balance like an angular modernist cloud. Its form seems untenable at first glance. And in a city renowned for its eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture, it’s a rather unlikely building amidst a thicket of shotgun houses and creole cottages.

Unfortunately, the building’s continued existence as a striking example of American mid-century modernism is looking increasingly improbable. The Recovery School District (RSD) set up by the State of Louisiana to operate many of New Orleans’ schools, has issued requests for demolition proposals for Phillis Wheatley. All this comes despite a Section 106 process and the involvement of various organizations, including the World Monuments Fund. While some racial and neighborhood issues have contributed in part to the current status quo, the RSD’s refusal to consider meaningful alternatives and the funding restrictions that accompany a $1.8 billion FEMA settlement are the real reasons that the iconic school is still headed toward demolition this summer.

Supporters of Phillis Wheatley Elementary join in a "Hands Around Wheatley" event on April 17, 2011 in a last ditch effort to save the 1954 modernist school building. Among those joining in the event were Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc, an actor in HBO's Treme. (Photo: John Stubbs / World Monuments Fund)

New Orleans has already lost several of its most high-profile modernist schools since 2005, and more, like Wheatley, remain in imminent risk of demolition.

But even after the functional death sentence, it’s clear that Wheatley, named for a colonial-era African American poet, is not dead yet. A group of fervent supporters, including former students, modernism enthusiasts, and local architects has refused to give up. On April 17, supporters held a “Hands Around Wheatley” event to raise awareness and stand up for the building. Leading the group were Wheatley alumna and community activist Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc (familiar to some as a character in HBO’s Treme) and Francine Stock, who blogs at REGIONAL MODERNISM :: THE NEW ORLEANS ARCHIVES. It was clear from the turnout and the words spoken at the event that Phillis Wheatley Elementary, as a place, matters.

Over 1,500 people have signed a petition to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu since April calling on him to intervene to halt the unnecessary demolition of the school building located in the Treme neighborhood. You can sign here.

As Montana-LeBlanc noted, “This structure can be renovated, repaired and returned to a school facility to teach the children in the neighborhood.” And as John Stubbs with the World Monuments Fund made clear, “If the Wheatley school is lost through demolition, it will be the 1st site on our World Monuments Watch List that died in our hands.” Here in New Orleans, we’re hoping the improbable happens - that the wrecking ball can be avoided.

To continue to follow the story, follow @docomomo_nola on Twitter. The National’s Trust’s Christine Madrid-French also covers mid-century modern preservation issues @trustmodern.

Brad Vogel is the Ed Majrkzak Historic Preservation Fellow in the New Orleans 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.

Struggling to Save Historic Schools in Washington State

Posted on: April 25th, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Chris Moore

The Moran School on Bainbridge Island in Washington. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

The Moran School on Bainbridge Island in Washington. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

Preservationists have been grappling with the issue of historic schools since the genesis of the movement to save old buildings. And the situation in Washington is no different.

Over the past decade, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation has worked to raise awareness about the difficulties facing historic schools. Prompted in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s inclusion of historic neighborhood schools in its 2000 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, in 2002 the Washington Trust commissioned a study to examine the status of historic schools statewide. This study provided an overview of historic schools that remain in use, those that have been modernized, cases where schools have been successfully adapted for new uses, and identified historic schools that are endangered or have already been lost to demolition.

In the nearly 10 years that have passed following this study, much has happened across the state. For example, state formulas for funding school construction have been re-examined. Previously, local districts could access a higher percentage of state matching funds when new construction was involved, creating a disincentive to rehabilitate aging facilities. This funding disparity has since been corrected.

In our cities, we are seeing concerted efforts to modernize historic schools, enabling them to meet the needs of students in the 21st century while retaining historic character-defining features. In Seattle, bond measures for school improvements include full consideration of a school’s historic significance and the district has successfully upgraded many historic buildings, outfitting each with the latest educational technology. Due in large part to the work of local preservationists, the Spokane School District is now in the habit of favoring upgrades to existing historic schools over new school construction, a practice enabling several schools to boast of providing continuous instruction in a single facility for nearly a century.

The City of Tacoma also embraces school rehabilitation. As part of the school’s centennial celebration, the district invested over $100M to rehabilitate Stadium High School. In addition to meticulously preserving the chateau-style exterior and original shell of the building, new athletic, fine and performing art facilities were compatibly incorporated to provide students with the best of all worlds.

Following on the success of Stadium High, the city’s preservation office, local advocates, including the preservation group Historic Tacoma, and others supported the school district in an effort to identify and highlight additional historically significant school buildings. The district hired a consultant to study the issue, which resulted in six additional schools being added to Tacoma’s local register of historic places.

Despite these successes, the fact remains that not all schools are able to remain in traditional use. In these instances, it’s important to be flexible. In an effort to save their historic schoolhouse, the residents of Five Mile Prairie, a rural community in northern Spokane County, envisioned a use that was compatible with the historic function of the school while offering the opportunity to highlight the area’s history.

Partnering with the local school district, advocates successfully supported passage of a bond issue in 2005. The result: the foyer of the Five Mile Schoolhouse is home to a permanent exhibit depicting community life on the prairie while the building houses the Mead Education Parent Partnership (MEPP), an effort of the school district to provide a ‘homeroom’ of sorts for the area’s home-schooled student population.

Trafton Elementary School in Washington's Arlington School District. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

Trafton Elementary School in Washington's Arlington School District. (Photo: Washington Trust for Historic Preservation)

There are, of course, ongoing challenges to find new uses for historic schools. For reasons of school consolidation, last year the Arlington School District voted to close the doors of Trafton Elementary School. Listed in the National Register, Trafton has been in use since 1912, although a school has operated on the site since 1888. The district plans to retain possession of the school and hopes to rent it out for other community uses, yet the building remains unused since its closure last year.

The Hartline School in eastern Washington faces a similar dilemma. Situated amid acres of wheat with a skyline of grain elevators, the school closed its doors in 2008, forcing students to attend the neighboring high school over 20 miles away. With demolition a real possibility, local advocates and Hartline alum formed the Hartline School Preservation Association (HSPA) and lobbied Grant County Port District #5 to purchase the building. Successful in their bid, the port took ownership last year and is working closely with HSPA on a plan for future use.

Of course, not all advocacy campaigns end well. The Moran School on Bainbridge Island offered an early preparatory school on the shores of Puget Sound. Around 1918, an impressive dormitory structure containing a ground floor theater was constructed to house the burgeoning student population. But by the 1960s, the campus converted to use as a retirement community, and the dormitory went unused—save for storage. Faced with severe maintenance issues, the owners sought to demolish the school building, prompting the Washington Trust to include the structure in our 2010 list of Most Endangered Historic Properties.

In cooperation with the owner and the local preservation commission, the organization identified a potential buyer with a plan for reuse. Unfortunately, purchase and sale negotiations broke down and the owners have reverted to their initial demolition plans. Discussions for mitigation are currently taking place.

So whether the sticking point is increasing (or, in many cases, decreasing) class sizes, school consolidation, implementing new technologies, aging infrastructure, or state policies that favor new construction over rehabilitation, historic schools in Washington face uphill challenges (and yes, that’s uphill both ways – walking to school and the return trip home!).

Chris Moore serves as the field director for the Washington 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.

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.