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.

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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.

Getting Over It: Boise Begins to See Past School Demolition

Posted on: June 27th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Sheri Freemuth

When I decided on a career as a city planner, one of the appealing parts of the job was the community activism involved with it. So when I received an email from Sarah Cunningham, a neighborhood activist for Boise’s Central Bench Neighborhood in January, I opened it with interest. She was proudly announcing that the University of Idaho's Urban Research and Design Center was undertaking a neighborhood project in Boise. The first step would be some grassroots survey work. Next would be brainstorming with the design students and their professor Sherry McKibben about the options for transit oriented development at the site.

The just-built Franklin School in 1905. (Photo: Preservation Idaho)

What a great opportunity for the neighborhood, I thought! Then I realized that the focus of their work would be a site at the corner of Franklin and Orchard streets. I had a wave of regret and a bit of nausea; I closed the email.

This was, in fact, the former site of the historic Franklin School. Preservation Idaho, along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and others had tried to save this school for several years. The site was part of the Independent School District of Boise City’s 2006 bond which involved multiple sites and the consolidation, reconstruction and relocation of schools. When the bond was promoted to voters it was stated that Franklin (and nearby Cole) School would be disposed of, but it did not state that the buildings would be demolished.

In the fall of 2008 the National Trust met with a prospective buyer discussing the building’s possible continued use as a Charter School, ongoing joint use of the fields and play equipment, and the potential for co-siting some senior housing. The School District did not accept this offer and by the summer of 2009 declared that both the Franklin and Cole School sites would be more marketable if the buildings were demolished. The schools were demolished in October of 2009, yet both sites are still vacant and unsold.

Of course, now the residents of the Central Bench are ready to move on. They have lost a public benefit that they had relied on for generations, including a beautiful public building, a park-like amenity (playing fields and playground equipment) and instead are faced with a cleared lot surrounded by chain link fencing.

Demolition at the Franklin School in October 2009. (Photo: Preservation Idaho)

I forced myself to attend the January neighborhood project meeting and was pleased to see a group of more than a dozen ready to engage. As we went around the room, I realized that these citizens loved the old school, too, and truly mourned its loss. Here was a chance for something positive to come of the experience.

In early March the project officially kicked off with a students and residents meeting. Before long it was clear that a priority for the neighborhood was a Cultural Arts and Community Center. The center could include classrooms, gathering spaces, a large performing arts theater, and other public amenities. Final student projects were well underway in the spring, and four alternative plans were presented in early May.

Earlier this month I staffed a table at the 2nd Annual Central Bench Spring Festival. Several of the student drawings were posted for everyone to see. They were beautiful, and any one of them would be the type of investment this neighborhood dearly needs and deserves. I couldn’t help but think what the preservation alternative would be. How nicely could the old school have been transformed into a Cultural Arts and Community Center? How best to really honor the heritage of the area than with the building that educated Boise students from 1905 to 2008 as the centerpiece? (For photos, visit Preservation Idaho.)

But it is past time for me and other preservationists to get over it. When a historic building is lost there is a time for mourning, but the important work of neighborhood planning and development goes on. Preservationists should be welcome and contributing partners in the process of moving on, just as they are in the process of identifying and saving historic sites.

I wonder though how this will unfold for the School District? They still own the property and they presumably are still determined to receive top dollar for the benefit of their patrons. Perhaps they too have gotten over it and will realize that this corner has been a public resource for well over a century and the neighborhood expects and deserves for it stay that way.

Sheri Freemuth, AICP, is a Program Officer for the Western Office. She resides in Boise, Idaho.

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.

A Tale of Two Towns: Preservation in Small Town Florida and Kentucky

Posted on: June 20th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Karen Nickless

Eatonville, Florida

Eatonville, Florida (pop. 2000), “The Town That Freedom Built,” was the first incorporated African American town in the United States. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, as violence and discrimination escalated, African Americans often joined together in communities, buying land where they could.

Eatonville's oldest house will become the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of the Fine Arts. (Photo: Karen Nickless)

Incorporated in 1887, Eatonville became nationally known due to its most famous resident, Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). Hurston, whose best-known work is Their Eyes Were Watching God, was a novelist, folklorist and anthropologist and a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance. Her insight into the culture of southern blacks not only put Eatonville on the map, it also preserved the culture for future generations.

Even as a Mecca for admirers of Hurston, Eatonville was not immune from the pressures of the twentieth century. Located a short distance from Orlando, the town lost part of its built environment to the construction of highways and lost population as a result of the closing of both its public and its private schools. One hundred years after its incorporation, citizens of Eatonville formed the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.).

Through the efforts of P.E.C., Eatonville now has a National Register historic district, Certified Local Government status and hosts an annual arts festival, “Zora!”

As always, work remains to be done. The oldest house in town, the Thomas House, will become the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of the Fine Arts, and efforts to draw more heritage tourists continue. As Hurston said in Dust Tracks on the Road, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at de sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

Sadieville, Kentucky

Sadieville, Kentucky (population 294) is not an arts destination or a destination at all except during its annual Railroad Festival. That could change.

Rosenwald School in Sadieville, Kentucky. (Photo: Karen Nickless)

On May 23, Preservation Kentucky (Kentucky’s statewide and a National Trust partner organization) held a news conference to announce the first of its Most Endangered Historic Places for 2011, Historic Small Town Kentucky. Taking Sadieville as a case study, PK director Rachel Kennedy   discussed the problems that disinvestment and the loss of historic schools can cause in small towns. These losses, Kennedy said, “make it more difficult to attract new residents and retain middle-class families. The town treasury suffers these effects through a declining tax base and a lack of community spirit. Without positive change, a town like Sadieville could fade away.”

But the Town of Sadieville is not going gently into that good night. A few years ago Cynthia Foster, Sadieville town clerk, called the National Trust Southern Office for help in restoring a Rosenwald School. Through technical advice and grants from our office and the hard work and dedication of the citizens of Sadieville, that dream is on its way to being a reality. The town now owns the school and the nearby African American church and plans to restore both. Recent work placed the school on a firm foundation of dry stack stone.

As Mayor Claude Christensen said at the news conference, “We’re getting a huge preservation appetite. The more we looked, the more we saw and uncovered things that had significance.” The town of Sadieville will continue to work with the National Trust through the Rosenwald School Initiative, with the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office, with Preservation Kentucky and with the University of Louisville, who will assist with a survey and National Register of Historic Places listing.

But, when it comes down to it, Sadieville has to make the hard decisions that Mayor Christensen called the “people vs. things” problem. Sewer lines or historic preservation? Infrastructure or a Senior Center? His answer?

“While we worry about the “things” let’s not forget about the people. Let’s give them something that causes them to think, to appreciate, to feel, and to be—human. After all, most of them, even those who are working on budgets, are in fact human and it’s the thinking and feeling and appreciating that makes them such. What do you say folks—how about throwing a little money at the museum, and the Amen House and the Senior Center, and the other things in our community that make us who we are, because at the end of the day, we’re worth it.”

And the preservationists say, “AMEN!”

Karen Nickless, PhD, is a field representative in the Southern 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.

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