Meet John Greer and learn about his reuse project that defied the odds in our new Faces in Preservation series.
Sometimes the biggest challenge in reusing a historic building is not adapting its irreplaceable features, but convincing those who will ultimately use the building that you're not crazy.
In addition to dealing with ductwork and tricky floor-to-floor heights, Little Rock-based architect John Greer also had to contend with a steady chorus of dissent from those who thought a K-12 charter school in an abandoned downtown newspaper plant simply couldn't be done.
In anticipation of his recent Faces in Preservation profile, we had a chance to chat with the reuse pro himself about his unique project and some of the challenges he encountered along the way.
PreservationNation: Why do you think the idea of a downtown K-12 school was so hard for people to get their heads around? What were some of the initial criticisms of the project?
In general, people don’t know how to handle change. The adjacent hotel was concerned about noise from the playground early in the morning when their patrons would be trying to sleep. The neighboring office buildings were happy with the quiet city street with the vacant building next door. They had plenty of parking at any given time of the day. They didn’t have to worry about traffic getting in and out of their buildings. There was no noise from screaming kids, bouncing balls on the playground, teachers with whistles...the list goes on. The reality of it is that, with the help of the city traffic engineers and the willingness of city leaders to embrace change, traffic flows quite well. Now, the first week was somewhat difficult, but once people got in a groove and got their pick-up and drop-off times coordinated, it worked quite well. And the hotel worked out an agreement with school administrators that the first recess would be delayed until after 9:30 a.m.
PreservationNation: Why was the Arkansas Gazette Building a perfect fit for the eStem Charter School?
The floor plan lent itself to a very open arrangement of classrooms along the perimeter encircling a central lightwell. There are so many exterior windows that we were able to provide abundant natural light in all but just a few classrooms. The introduction of natural light into these rooms has created an environment that is very conducive to the students. The charter school is the first school in our area to adopt an eight-hour school day. To subject a student to eight hours of intense learning without natural light is not an environment that is conducive to learning. Location is also key. It is within a three-block walk to the main public library. It is four blocks from a performing arts theater. And best of all, it is centrally located in the business district to allow working parents to drop off and pick up in close proximity to their work.
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Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.