North St. Louis Schools SLPS The Ville

Marshall School Awaits New Use

by Michael R. Allen

This week’s news of a reprieve for Sumner High School brought relief to the Ville neighborhood, where another public school remains vacant after closing this summer. Stately John Marshall School stands at 4342 Aldine Avenue between Newstead and Pendleton avenues. The three-story building in the Classical Revival style dates to 1900 and is one of architect William B. Ittner’s first uses of the E-Plan layout.

The entrance is imposing and formed by brick piers supporting a massing terra cotta entablature. Brown terra cotta is used there and surrounding the doorway, over which a bust of John Marshall watches.

Like Sumner, Marshall School is a crucial part of the cultural legacy of the Ville. During segregation, the school became an African-American intermediate school in 1918 and an elementary school in 1927. Many students who would pass through the doors of mighty Sumner High School, also designed by Ittner, would first pass through Marshall School.

What future may be in store for the shuttered Marshall School is uncertain. With deed restrictions against charter school purchase lifted by the St. Louis Public Schools, educational use is possible. For now, however, all that is certain is that the Ville does not need another vacant school building.

Academy Neighborhood Demolition North St. Louis Preservation Board Schools SLPS

Good News and Bad News on Page Boulevard

by Michael R. Allen

Preservationists should send their thanks to Better Family Life, a cultural and educational organization that is uplifting African-American St. Louis while rehabilitating one of our city’s irreplaceable historic schools. In 2005, Better Family Life purchased the shuttered Ralph Waldo Emerson School at 5415 Page Boulevard. This year, the organization began a $4.5 million rehabilitation that will convert the school into an educational and cultural center.

Currently, a construction fence surrounds the school. Workers are on site most days, and a lift was in front today. The daily activity at Emerson School has not been this high since the school’s last day of classes in June 2003. When the school closed, few predicted that any serious buyer would step forward so soon. The landmark could have become an abandoned wreck.

Designed by William B. Ittner and completed in 1901, the brick school is one of the earliest of Ittner’s schools in the hybrid “Jacobethan” style that he helped popularize. Ittner began working for the St. Louis Board of Education in 1898, and did not turn to the Renaissance styles until a few years into his tenure. Emerson School is a handsome early work utilizing the architect’s open floor plan. The grace of the landmark shall be with us for generations, thanks to Better Family Life.

If only all good news from St. Louis’ built environment did not have to be counterbalanced by bad news. Just two blocks east of Emerson on the south side of mighty Page Boulevard at Union Boulevards, another north side landmark is meeting a sad end. The corner commercial block at 5986-98 Page Boulevard, written about on this blog several times before, is finally falling to the wreckers. I offer here an image of the building in better days, and will spare readers yet another demolition photograph.

The corner building is a younger building than Emerson School, with a completion date at 1905. The two-story building is part of the Mount Cabanne-Raymond Place Historic District and could have been reused utilizing historic tax credit programs. Surely, commercial storefronts and apartments enjoy far more demand in the city than cultural centers. However, the building had the wrong owner, the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church, which will be building a parking lot on the site.

In February 2008, the city’s Preservation Board voted 5-2 to deny a demolition permit for this building. Then, in June 2009, the city’s Planning Commission arbitrarily overturned the Preservation Board decision.

The story got stranger after that when the church failed to meet the requirements of the Planning Commission decision but began demolition this summer without a permit. City officials called a halt to the wrecking, but the wreckers had already delivered fatal damage by removing most of the roof. Now the rest of the building will be removed legally. Page Boulevard will have a completely disjointed, unhinged intersection with Union Boulevard. Two prominent thoroughfares shall meet at an intersection as full of character as any generic suburban intersection anywhere in the United States. This city, it should be stated, deserves better. It deserves what it had before.

Abandonment North St. Louis Schools Wells-Goodfellow

Records Left at Arlington School

by Michael R. Allen

A fascinating report on KTVI news covers the discovery of children psychiatric records found inside of a portable classroom at the abandoned Arlington School at 1617 Burd Avenue in Wells-Goodfellow. I have been all over inside of the historic building for documentation work, but never inside of the classrooms built in 1961. However, I have been inside enough abandoned buildings to know that the abandonment of private employee and medical records is far too common.

The story also hits on the upcoming renovation of Arlington, quoting Alderman Jeffrey Boyd (D-22nd) saying: “For some people, it is an eyesore. I see it as an opportunity.”

Good attitude.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

St. Louis Public School Closings on NPR’s "All Things Considered"

KWMU reporter Adam Allington’s story on St. Louis Public Schools closings was carried today on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” NPR’s website features a gallery of photographs of schools closed in the current round. The story will air again tonight at 6:40 p.m. on 90.7 FM, and the audio file will be posted online after 7:00 p.m.

Schools SLPS

SLPS Deed Restrictions Out

by Michael R. Allen

From the St. Louis Public Schools:

ST. LOUIS, MO, April 17, 2009 – The Special Administrative Board of the St. Louis Public Schools voted unanimously (3-0) in closed session last evening to remove the deed restriction clause currently included in all property sales contracts. This policy goes into effect on June 30, 2009, to allow the district ample time to evaluate the facility needs for the upcoming school year in light of several new academic initiatives presented at the meeting by Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams.

Among those issues are:

· Assessing the required classrooms and schools needed for initiatives, such as pilot independent schools, before and after school programs, and alternative education programs which are included in Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams’ academic plan for the district.

· Providing alternate school sites for buildings undergoing lead paint abatement during the summer of 2009.

“We have worked with our elected leaders at the state capital in resolving this issue, and we appreciate their support in finding a resolution where we can enhance the education for all of our City students,” said Rick Sullivan, President & CEO of the Special Administrative Board.

The deed restriction has been a long standing issue from past school boards, and it was determined by the Special Administrative Board to be in the best interest of student education in St. Louis to revisit and revise the policy.

State Representative Tim Jones (R-89) said, “I appreciate the willingness of the St. Louis Public Schools to revisit this policy. I believe that by working together, we have reached a solution satisfactory to all parties for the betterment of education for the children in the City of St. Louis.”

State Representative Chris Carter (D-61) added, “I support the Special Administrative Board in this decision that will help make our neighborhoods stronger. This decision allows the St. Louis Public Schools to do what it believes is in the best interest of all the students in the City of St. Louis.”

Schools St. Louis County University City

University City Voters Should Vote NO on Proposition U

by Lindsey Derrington

Tomorrow University City residents will have the opportunity to vote either for or against Proposition U, a $53.6 million bond issue for the University City School District. If passed, this bond issue will fund the district’s proposed facilities plan which entails the demolition of Pershing (1920) and Barbara C. Jordan (1951) Elementary schools — the former designed by Ittner himself, and the latter designed by William B. Ittner, Inc. Both of these schools currently provide healthy, functioning educational environments and both have shown the most improvement within the district in recent years. If failed, property taxes will drop in University City and the district will have a community mandate to rework its plans to improve educational achievement amongst its students, one which would focus less on facilities and more on the teachers and students themselves.

A vote for or against Proposition U is not a vote for or against the students within the UCSD, but one for or against a facilities plan which fails to address the real needs of the district.

Abandonment Academy Neighborhood North St. Louis Schools SLPS

A St. Louis Public School Not Designed by Ittner or Milligan

by Michael R. Allen

The large vacant brick building at 5234 Wells Avenue in the Academy Neighborhood bears a sign reading “St. Louis Public Schools / Area 1 Offices.” The imposing Jacobethan building has the symmetry, grace and quality of construction that is consistent with the stock of the St. Louis Public Schools, but it really does not resemble the buildings designed by William B. Ittner or Rockwell Milligan. Stylistically, there is some connection, but the plan, siting, lack of ornamentation on the side elevation and detailing is different. The massive terra cotta heraldic shield that caps the central entrance bay as well as the cartouches under the flanking window bays are clearly the work of another architect.

There’s a good reason for this: the building was not built for the St. Louis Public Schools. The Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church built this building in 1928 as a private religious school (cost was $40,000). Architect Albert Meyer designed the building, likely trying to match the renowned architecture of the public school district. Eventually, however, the congregation moved west and the closed school met the needs of an expanding St. Louis Public School district. Yes, the district expanded to the point of buying other school buildings within the lifetimes of many living city residents.

The Mt. Calvary school became Wells School and then Emerson Branch School. The last use was as the Area 1 Offices, housing regional administration for the Northwest, Soldan and Southwest high schools. The district closed the building in 1995 and sold it in 2006 to Grizzly LLC, a St. Charles-based firm. Today the building sits empty with no plans for reuse.

MGT of America recommended that the St. Louis Public Schools consider selling the downtown headquarters building and reusing existing schools for offices. This building, already converted, would have fit the bill. Its small size would also have made it a suitable alternative school. Too bad the district sold it.

Area 1 Offices building in September 2006.

Area 1 Offices building in May 1988 (photograph by Landmarks Association of St. Louis).

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

SAB Approves Superintendent’s Recommended Facilities Plan

by Michael R. Allen

Last night, the Special Administrative Board unanimously approved the Facilities Management Plan recommended by St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams. The recommendations call for 17 school closures and the possible demolition of Mann School in Tower Grove South. (The summary and list are available here.) Adams first presented his recommendations to the SAB on February 26.

At last night’s meeting, three individuals spoke on behalf of Mann School during the public comment period, but the SAB ignored the pleas to keep the school open. However, the plan approved by the SAB would not close Mann until 2011 with a decision made next year, providing time for community input and reversal of the recommendations. Tower Grove South residents including the Block Captains association as well as Alderwoman Jennifer Florida (D-15th) oppose closing Mann and any plan that would call for its demolition.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS South St. Louis Tower Grove South

The Fate of Mann School

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph of Mann School in 1989 from Landmarks Association of St. Louis‘ survey of St. Louis Public Schools buidlings.

St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams relieved many city residents with his closure recommendations, which number 17 as opposed to the 29 schools proposed by a team of consultants hired by the district in January. However, Adams raised the threat to Mann School at 4047 Juniata in Tower Grove South, which Admas is proposing not only for closure but also for possible demolition and replacement with a new building.

This recommendation is actually the one point where Adams is actually pushing a more severe threat to the district’s historic architecture than did the old-building-fearing consultants from MGT of America. MGT proposed closing Mann along with Shenandoah and Sherman schools, with all three south side elementaries combined at a new super-school in Tower Grove East. Adams wants Shenandoah to remain open, but is proposing a merger of Mann and Sherman in a new building he thinks could be built on the Mann site. A final decision would be made next year, but the crucial step is taken tonight when the facilities management plan is ratified.

The Mann site must be the most poorly-suited site in the district for construction of a new school building. When Mann was built in 1901 to designs by William Ittner, the ornate Jacobethen revival school was a compact two-story building on a compact site. Unlike those of other Ittner schools, the Mann site was not expansive and landscaped; it was small and paved, used for playground space. The school was in close proximity to buildings across the alley and across the street, in a siting beautifully urban. A 1916 addition that doubled Mann’s size maintained the relationship of the school to the neighborhood. (Paul Hohmann has great photographs in a recent blog post at Vanishing STL.)

Now, the school is landlocked in one of the city’s most stable and densely populated neighborhoods. Furthermore, the elementary school is doing well — enrollment is around 80%, the student base is 52% ESOL so south city’s immigrants are well-served, and 12 different organizations provide services at the school to students neighborhood children. This is a model neighborhood school. In fact, the state of Mann sounds a lot like the vision that members of the Special Administrative Board have for other elementary schools in the district.

Tonight (Thursday, March 12), the Special Administrative Board has a chance to save that model school. The Board will approve a facilities plan and closure list at its meeting, 6:00 p.m. at the Gateway Schools complex gymnasium, 1200 N. Jefferson. the public may address the Board at this meeting.

The largest step that the SAB could take would be removing Mann from the closure list altogether to safeguard its success and connection to the neighborhood. However, under any circumstances, demolition of Mann School should not be an option in the facilities plan. The SAB must amend Adams’ recommendations to prohibit demolition of Mann or any other historic school building — a condition now placed by the SAB in all sales contracts to private owners. Besides, rehabbing Mann or Sherman, or both, would be far more economical than building new.

This building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 for architectural significance, is a unique gem in a strong urban setting. The site is too small for a new school. The school is doing well. Why force an awkward fit, lose a great building and tamper with a stable neighborhood?

Schools SLPS South St. Louis

100 Supporters March and Rally to Save Public Schools

by Michael R. Allen

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – One hundred public school supporters held a Save Our Schools Rally at Shepard Elementary School at 3405 Wisconsin this morning to show support for keeping the school open. They then marched to Monroe Elementary, Carnahan High School, Meramec Elementary, three schools that have been recommended to stay open, with a concluding rally at Cleveland High School on S. Grand (which was closed three years ago).

At Shepard Alderman Craig Schmid urged participants to sign a petition opposing the closure of St. Louis Public Schools such as Shepard (e-MINTS) Elementary, Meramec Elementary, Cleveland High and Scruggs Elementary. “There are plenty of children in the area, but we have not seen sufficient efforts to market or recruit students to participate in quality St. Louis Public School programming,” Schmid said. Shepard pre-schoolers led those gathered in saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag and singing “The Star Spangled Banner” before reciting a portion of a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At Monroe Elementary, Schmid told the history of the school’s successful re-opening after almost 20 years of being closed. He questioned whether charter schools would be accountable to the community for quality education and noted that charter schools already operating in the area do not compare well with student achievement at Monroe.

At Carnahan High School and Meramec Elementary School, marchers stopped to celebrate successes, including recent awards given to Dr. Alice Roach, principal of Carnahan. Student ambassadors told about high tech classroom aids available at the school and announced that Carnahan had just received accreditation through the North Central Association.

John Chen of The Alliance to Save Cleveland High greeted marchers at the final stop of the Save Our Schools event and told them about work that citizens are doing to get the high school re-opened. Chen said they hope to see the building used as a much-needed community center and “as a collection of small learning communities in one large building.” Such a model has operated successfully, according to Cleveland supporters who have been researching “best practices” in other cities.

Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner (Ward 25) and State Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford (District 59) were also present to show support for keeping the schools open. Those interested in joining efforts to support any of these schools are invited to call Schmid at 314-589-6816 or Oxford at 314-771-8882.