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Monday, February 2, 2009

Landmarks Association Stands Up for Historic SLPS Schools

Landmarks Association of St. Louis has published a position statement on the proposed St. Louis Public Schools facilities plan. Read the full text here.

The statement includes useful background information on the $200 million Capital Improvement Program that SLPS implemented from 1989 through 1991 in order to modernize buildings and abate lead and asbestos. The statement ends with wise and strong recommendations for protecting historic school buildings, reprinted here:

Historic Preservation

1. That District not demolish any school identified as historically or architecturally significant in the 1988 schools survey;

2. That the District place all eligible schools in the National Register of Historic Places to recognize their significance and to ensure demolition review under municipal ordinance;

3. That the District make all changes or additions to buildings (especially those included in the 1988 schools survey) respectful of defining architectural features and landscaped settings;

4. That the District obtain detailed bids from qualified contractors and architects with historic renovation work experience when evaluating the cost of retaining existing buildings, to avoid the assumption that renovating historic schools necessarily costs more than building new schools;

5. That the District consult with design professionals experienced in historic renovation work when making plans to renovate any existing schools included in the 1988 survey;

6. That the District develop, in concert with preservation consultants, a realistic maintenance plan for all the historic school buildings and incorporate them into a capital funding plan with rigorous follow through.

School Closures

1. That the District consider leasing schools to public or private entities as an alternative to sale;

2. That the District include in all sales contracts a clause forbidding demolition of schools included in the 1988 survey;

3. That the District reverse its policy of forbidding sales to charter schools or other educational entities, since such sale is preferable to abandonment or demolition;

4. That the District make every attempt to sell or lease buildings and avoid mothballing buildings, for the sake of neighborhood stabilization;

5. That the District properly secure and monitor any historic school closed but retained for future use.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

What if a neighborhood group with support from the ward alderman wants to demolish a closed school to make way for a different use?

Chris said...

There is enough vacant land in the city of St. Louis that not a single building needs to be torn down for new buildings. Your straw man argument assumes that "neighborhood groups" somehow own the schools more than someone living across the city. The schools belong to EVERY citizen of the city, not the people who live near them.

samizdat said...

Oh, look, M. Troll Anonymous makes another bold suggestion. Chris, you make the same point I made in a post on another site. To wit, that it is absurd, undemocratic, and illogical to conclude that simply because one doesn't live in a particular geographic area, one is not vested in that area's well-being and betterment. Nor should one be excluded from taking an active role in ensuring that no harm comes to any monument, National Park, City Park, neighborhood, geographical area, school, old, broken-down house, etc. As it was, I believe, Milton (or maybe Merton) who said that no man is an island, we are reminded that we are all interconnected in some way, oftentimes whether we like or not. So, in closing, Mr. Snarkypants Anonymous, even if you don't like it, we ARE connected, and if you deny me my RIGHT to give a shit about our City and our schools--and the children who attend them--you're going to have to get used to me and others fighting to ensure that these structures are protected. BTW, aren't you the least bit pissed off that most of these schools were upgraded with AC, (added value in a "marketplace", whatever that means these days) at our expense, and now the idea is to sell these value-added buildings to developers or? without any input from the populace? Were any one of us as citizens asked to participate in the process which just ended with the recommendation that 29 F***ING BUILDINGS BE CLOSED!? No, and you know why? Because we would have run these miscreants out of town, and the politicians who started this process would have been embarrassed, something which our pols, their vanity exceeded only by their venality, don't like to experience. I predict that these idiots will get an earful from our fellow citizens when Wednesday and Saturday roll around. I'll be there tommorrow, and I'll be there in spirit on Saturday, by way of having another engagement with the woman who will be my wife shortly after noon on Saturday. Mazel tov, Mr. Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

It's not a straw man argument. It's based on an actual case.

One of the schools on the closure list, Nottingham, was the subject of a proposal a couple of years ago to acquire, demolish, and reuse the site as a community center for the 16th ward.

The only difference is that the 16th ward alderman has not taken an official position on the plan.

The plan died because the Board of Education was not willing to sell the school. Now the same school is on the closure list.

Nottingham is a nice building on a prominent site across from Francis Park. The mosaics around the front entry are lovely, and it has a nice athletic field in the back.

A group of neighborhood residents proposed a plan to form a community improvement district in the 16th ward, levy an annual tax of about $300 per property, and build an upscale recreation center and swimming facility. Replete with water slides, a lazy river, etc. If memory serves, the total project cost was around $25,000,000.

Proponents believed such an amenity would be the sort of thing to keep the neighborhood competitive with other neighborhoods of choice in the St. Louis region.

Is Nottingham one of the schools on Landmark's preservation list? I don't know.

Not all neighborhoods have "vacant land". In fact, most neighborhoods don't. School sites are among the few large footprint ownership opportunities in city neighborhoods.

If they are surplus with no plan for reuse, should demolition and redevelopment be off the table?

Anonymous said...

The 1988 survey is over 20 years old. It looked at buildings dating back to 1938 (then meeting the 50 year benchmark for historic signficance).

21 years later, are there schools built through 1959 which should be added to the list for preservation?

Matt M. said...

Is the 1988 plan available online?

Michael R. Allen said...

Unfortunatelt, the 1988 survey is not online, but anyoen who wishes to view it can come to the office of Landmarks Association Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

While I don't think that all of the schools built after 1938 merit preservation (think of those ugly ones with the parking under the school), some do (Ames and Pruitt, for instance, are fine modern buidlings).

Anonymous said...

Correction-

According to a quote in this article, the 16th ward alderman is okay with the community center proposal if voters want it.

2005 RFT Story on Proposed 16th ward community center

And the cost was closer to $10-12 million, not $25 million. According to the RFT story, the main sticking point at the time was that the Board of Education wasn't selling the property. That obstacle has been removed.

Any thoughts re. the historic significance of Nottingham School? If nothing else, its date of construction seems to coincide with the neighborhood's development, and no one would argue that St. Louis Hills is not eligible for the National Register, would they?

Doug Duckworth said...

In reality, there isn't a lot of vacant land around where the replacement for Shepard, Shenandoah, and Mann schools are located. These schools are to be replaced with a new school. It's likely that they will try to demolish one of these three for the new school and that's wholly unacceptable, especially when these schools could get on the National Register and get tax credits.

Michael R. Allen said...

I agree that Nottingham qualifies as historic.

Chris said...

Anyone notice how Anonymous is not addressing our assertion that the community center could be built on preexisting vacant land without the need for any demolition?