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

Preservation Round-Up: The Greenest Building Edition

Posted on: June 9th, 2011 by David Garber


The famous Slows Bar-B-Q in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. (Photo: Flickr user DigDowntownDetroit)

In preservation circles, it’s a story we’ve all heard a million times yet still hasn’t reached the mainstream: restoring existing buildings is one of the greenest ways to build. For all the press that green starchitect skyscrapers get (much of which is actually pretty cool … we need flashes of new every once in a while), historic preservation rarely gets a mention.

But review columns and trades magazines showcase a different reality than most Americans experience. Look around - it’s the older neighborhoods and buildings that are pricier – first choice for those with the most resources. The hot new speakeasies and galleries are typically in old buildings. Exposed brick is still king. When given the option, most people tend to choose a look and a lifestyle that mixes old and new. Trendy and retro go hand in hand. If green is the headline, then why isn’t preservation and adaptation the story?

Certainly it’s up to us to make that change. We know that preservation is sexy. We can preach (too often to the choir) that preservation is green. Here are a few stories that help flip that vision to a wider audience (and a few that just keep us jazzed about preservation in general).

Miller-McCune Magazine published a story titled “Old Buildings Combine Sustainability, Preservation” that gives a little more depth to common “preservation is greenest” cry.

Helping historic preservationists present their case are new studies that calculate what is lost — in measurable environmental terms — when we tear buildings down and replace them with new ones. Plenty of studies have demonstrated the merits of constructing new green buildings, but until recently, there’s been relatively little data available on the economic and environmental benefits of building reuse.

In New York, one preservation story is pretty much all about green, hip, good-looking, and relevant: The High Line Section 2 is Now Open. We’ve pushed High Line stories before, but if you aren’t familiar, it’s a new contemporary park and pathway built atop old elevated railroad tracks on the west side of Manhattan. And dang is it a preservation and adaptation win. The New York Times ran a story about how the opening has changed the neighborhood for the better, and the Inhabitat blog has some great photos of the park’s latest segment.

We’ve all seen photos of Detroit’s abandoned buildings and windswept neighborhoods, but it’s time the Motor City got some good press. The New York Post highlights the Corktown neighborhood in its article “The New Detroit Cool,” and shows off an old side of the city that’s lifting itself up.

Here, you can now see artists working to re-appropriate forgotten spaces as public art. You have urban farmers making productive use of vacant land, taking the idea of eating local to the extreme. You have the city's most talked-about restaurant (an excellent barbecue joint), a record store, a Martiniquais (by way of Paris, Brazil and Brooklyn) making crepes, a cool little vintage boutique, two brothers selling freshly-made bagels out of their apartment, a sustainable food truck and, soon, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge and a third-wave coffee bar.

(PS – if you haven’t seen these great videos featuring some of the cooler sides of Detroit, they’re definitely a must-see.)

Check out this great op-ed from Dallas – “Not J.R.’s Kind of Town” which tells the story of how one local found a way to restore the old Kessler Theater. With so many old and abandoned theaters across the United States, this is actually a really relevant story for how to give them new life. The key: bring in more uses than just performances.

Oh hey look! In preservationy-but-not-necessarily news, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the “front porch is enjoying a renewed surge in popularity.”

"It changes the tempo and pace of your life," said Gail Warner, a public relations consultant who bought a house with a front porch in a planned community in Fort Mill, S.C., in 2007. "We're out there in the evening with our porch mayor (pet dog), having a glass of wine and talking to the neighbors. We all have front porches here, which means we all know each other. When a neighbor needs help, we galvanize."

Before moving to Fort Mill, Warner and her husband lived in a porchless town house. "Nine years there, and I never knew my neighbors," said Warner.

A front porch, you say? Couldn’t we all use one of those right about now? Commence mid-day dreaming.

Still don't have your preservation news fix? Check out these other stories that caught our eye:

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Sweet parks, good barbecue, and front porch sittin' sounds really good to him right now. Fightin' the urge.

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.


By now, you're probably familiar with scenes of energetic volunteers learning how to hammer, new one-story homes rising up in mere weeks, and first-time homeowners receiving keys. It's all due to the work of Habitat for Humanity, the international nonprofit organization dedicated to building simple, affordable houses for families in need.

A restored Habitat for Humanity home in Newburgh, NY. (Photo: Pepper Watkins)

What you may not know, however, is that some Habitat affiliates are augmenting the traditional 'new build' model with rehabilitations and renovations -- and along the way, doing preservation as well.

Take, for example, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh. Located 60 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River, this affiliate has acquired dozens of abandoned homes from the City of Newburgh and turned them around with the help of thousands of volunteers. (For the full story, check out their case study featured in the National Trust's Habitat for Humanity Preservation Toolkit.)

This approach not only takes advantage of the city's available housing stock, but it also retains the character and history of the community -- a perfect dovetail to Habitat International's  Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which expands the organization's products, services, and partnerships to serve more families and better tailor solutions to each community's needs.

Of course, there are a lot of lessons learned along the way, and Newburgh has stockpiled some excellent advice on how to make rehabs work in other communities. In this video, Habitat Newburgh staffers and volunteers share their top tips:

We applaud Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh for their continued dedication to thoughtful rehabilitation, and hope they inspire other affiliates around the country to investigate if rehabs can support their local efforts too.

For more case studies and information, please visit the Habitat for Humanity Preservation Toolkit.

Julia Rocchi is an Online Content Provider for the National Trust's Digital + New Media team. She thinks that the opportunity to film this amazing project was totally worth getting stuck in a snowstorm on the way home.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the director of digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

New Partnerships for West Baltimore's Green Spaces

Posted on: May 25th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Eli Pousson

Residents and advocates walk to West Baltimore's squares. (Photo: Eli Pousson)

The Friends of West Baltimore Squares is a new partnership-driven initiative connecting historic preservation, urban greening and neighborhood revitalization through the celebration of West Baltimore’s unique historic squares and parks. Working as a Partner in the Field promoting neighborhood revitalization in African American communities, I often discover parks, gardens, and vacant lots, some well loved and cared for and others not, just next door or across the street from the historic buildings that we're fighting to save at Baltimore Heritage. The aspirations of gardeners in West Baltimore have much in common with our efforts to reuse buildings - like the Sellers Mansion on the southeast corner of Lafayette Square - and return activity to a neighborhood that struggles with disinvestment and concentrated poverty. The Friends of West Baltimore Squares reflects these common goals of supporting more livable and vital neighborhoods through a partnership between Baltimore Heritage, the Parks & People Foundation, and neighborhood residents around five historic parks to organize events, conduct outreach to residents and visitors, and advocate for the long-term vitality of West Baltimore's parks and neighborhoods.

(Photo: Eli Pousson)

We launched this new effort in February 2011 working with neighborhood leaders in Franklin Square, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square, Perkins Square, and Union Square. These five parks are used by over a dozen West Baltimore neighborhoods which include many more pocket parks and community gardens. While these neighborhoods are distinct and diverse, they also share many common challenges - vacant and abandoned properties, and illegal dumping all come to mind - but also share common assets such as handsome historic rowhouses, generous green space, and the potential for transit-oriented community development around the new Red Line light rail route proposed to connect West & East Baltimore through downtown. We decided to focus initially on organizing public events to engage a broad cross-section of neighborhood residents and begin growing a network of contacts across the area. Our first event, the West Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration, at the end of April. The walk connected over 60 residents from the area to four of the major squares, and ended with a community BBQ at Lafayette Square.

(Photo: Eli Pousson)

We're promoting our programs through neighborhood meetings, a growing e-mail list, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. This range of outreach efforts is essential to connect with the many young people and families who often do not participate in neighborhood organizations and also offers an opportunity to recognize the neighborhoods many real assets like the new Harlem Park School Community Garden. We're launching a new tour program in early June at the West Baltimore Farmer's Market that mixes interpretation of the area's Civil War history in the 1860s, struggles with urban renewal in the 1960s, and innovative new approaches to urban forestry and sustainable stormwater management.

This is a new effort for Baltimore Heritage and we are excited about the opportunities to reach out and engage, not only with people who love old buildings but also with those who are working hard to create more sustainable historic neighborhoods through supporting parks and gardens. Through building up community around a shared commitment to sustainable and unique historic neighborhoods and connecting our efforts to the transit-oriented development, we see a bright future for the residents and neighborhoods around West Baltimore Squares.

Check out this slideshow for many more photos of our Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration!

Eli Pousson is a field officer with Baltimore Heritage, in partnership with 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.

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

Preservation Round-Up: View from the Street Edition

Posted on: May 19th, 2011 by David Garber


A block of Washington, DC's fast-changing H Street NE. (Photo: Flickr user tedeytan)

Another reason we love preservation? Because it helps deepen the context and expand the stories of the streets, neighborhoods, towns, and cities that our work is part of. The further we go in the past, the more important specific places were for where buildings were located. People relied on weather patterns, natural light, and horse-drawn carriage travel distances. This house was built on that hill because it needed a view of that field. This building was built on that axis because it needed sunlight in that room. This community was built on that land because of that soil. It’s easy to forget those contextual needs in an age when we can light any room at any time, buy any kind of fruit in any season, and travel great distances in a short amount of time. But there’s a richness to the historical context. Today’s round-up is the “View from the Street” edition because these stories are just as much about place and placement as they are about the structures themselves.

What got me thinking about this? Earlier this week, Knox Heritage released their “Fragile Fifteen” list of endangered historic places, and most of the buildings listed are treasured because of the way they add historical context to the changing areas around them. Interestingly, most of their sites are at or controlled by the University of Tennessee (alumni, raise your voices!), whose master plan eliminates many old and original structures. Another, the Martin-Russell House, in danger of being moved:

The Martin-Russell House has remained at its original location for 175 years, a rare feat in this part of the world. Its location was determined by the modes of transportation employed during the era it was built and it still stands at a heavily traveled crossroads.

But chin up, friends, there’s a lot of good news to be had.  The High Line Park in New York City is a total triumph of contextual preservation and adaptation, and Phase 2 of the elevated railroad-turned-urban-oasis is opening in June. Enjoy this crazy awesome video that celebrates the new section of emerald goodness:

Across the country in Los Angeles, the Glendale City Council approved the design for the Museum of Neon Art. If we’re talking about views from the street, this museum is kind of the perfect fit. You’re going to want to click through to see the renderings of this building (and, if you’re anything like me, fall in love with the Virginia Court Motel Diver sign that will serve as the museum’s figurehead). Most of the signs were designed and built for very specific contexts that no longer exist, so it will be interesting to see how the museum celebrates and examines the signs’ original homes.

Here’s a fresh idea: new art designed for an old building context. In Ensched, Netherlands (but this would most definitely work in America, too), URBANSCREEN came up with the idea to project a video onto a building’s façade that examines the relationship between inside and outside, privacy and publicity.

It’s easy to think of built context apart from people and population context. For the neighborhoods surrounding Washington, DC’s fast-changing H Street NE, it’s impossible to separate the two. Sarah L. Courteau at The Wilson Quarterly wrote a piece called “New to the Neighborhood: How can you be called an urban pioneer when you move to an inner-city neighborhood where families have lived for generations?” In it, she talks about the people, relationships, and power struggles at play as her neighborhood transitions.

Walking down H Street, it’s hard not to feel a heady sense of inevitability. Change! Progress! And to hold the conviction that all the choices I make about how I live—the way I keep up my yard, the restaurants and shops I patronize, the kinds of foodstuffs I buy at the local grocery store—are contributions to a joint project of incremental improvement that’s spread among thousands of households.

The places we interact with and invest in are all part of larger contexts, and preservation and adaptation are important tools for giving those contexts character, new life, and an increased communal pride of place. What are the pieces of your community that need to be highlighted? In what small ways can you give depth to the story of your street, neighborhood, or city?

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.


As most preservationists know, tax incentives can often be a critical deciding factor in getting a project off the ground. Convincing others of the awesomeness of tax incentives, however, can be a challenge - the words alone cause people's eyes to glaze over. And once this happens, they miss out on what a huge difference these incentives can make in revitalizing communities.

The National Park Service, by way of their YouTube channel, has come to the rescue with a short video that demonstrates the value of their Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program by looking at Washington, DC's Atlas Theater. The rehabilitation of the theater, aided by tax incentives, has contributed to the revitalization of an entire neighborhood - and speaking as someone who lives within walking distance, the change has been dramatic. (And so very welcome.)

One of the projects NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis mentions later in the video, the Crown Square Development in St. Louis, won our National Trust/HUD Award in 2010 - so it's not just projects in the shadow of the Capitol that benefit from these incentives.

So, tell your friends: historic preservation tax incentives rock! And when they give you that blinky, uncomprehending stare, show them the video. Then they'll get it.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.