Historic Preservation Mid-Century Modern North St. Louis Old North Schools SLPS

Adams Recommends Keeping Ames School Open

by Michael R. Allen

St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams is recommending that Ames Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Elementary School at 2900 Hadley Street in Old North St. Louis remain open. On Thursday, February 26, Adams recommended to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) that the Board reject the proposal from consultants MGT of America that Ames combine with Shaw VPA Elementary School at the Blewett Middle School on Cass Avenue, and the two schools’ buildings close.

While the SAB will not approve Adams’ recommendations until March 12, the shift from the consultants’ recommendations is welcome in Old North, a neighborhood that remains beset by an earlier school closure. In 2007, the Board of Education closed Webster Middle School at 2127 N. 11th Street. Webster is a large historic school whose site encompasses an entire city block. Since its closure, which came after the opening of charter school Confluence Academy in Old North, the district has not placed Webster for sale nor determined its future use. The building sits vacant in a neighborhood saddled with many large, vacant historic buildings, including the partly-stabilized Mullanphy Emigrant Home, the Meier and Pohlmann factory and the burned-out Fourth Baptist Church. The neighborhood did not need another building added to that list.

Opened in 1956, Ames is a fine mid-century building that provides a pleasant contrast with its 19th-century red-brick surroundings. Ames closes eastward views down both Wright and Sullivan streets. In 1992 under the Capital Improvement Program, Ames was expanded with a substantial addition. Later, in 2006, Ames closed for a period to be fully air-conditioned. Ames is a polling place, community meeting space and has been a source for student volunteers in neighborhood garden programs.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS South St. Louis Tower Grove East Tower Grove South

Shenandoah School May Be Spared

by Michael R. Allen

Shenandoah Elementary School at 3412 Shenandoah Avenue in Tower Grove East received a reprieve tonight when St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent recommended to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) that the school remain open in its current building. Although the final decision of Adams’ recommendation won’t be made by the SAB until March 12, the news is a relief to a neighborhood concerned that the future a community resource might become a huge question mark.

Under the proposal from consultants MGT of America unveiled in January, Shenandoah was set to be combined with Mann Elemantary School in Tower Grove Soth and Sherman Elementary School in Shaw in a new building to be build “near” Shenandoah. Neighborhood residents feared that “near” in a dense, landlocked neighborhood meant “on” and that an architectural gem would be lost. The MGT recommendations came only a year after the SLPS had proposed closing Shenandoah outright.

The school is a remarkable building, known widely for the braided limestone columns of its striking entrance (pictured above). Designed by Rockwell Milligan and built in 1925, Shenandoah School is an excellent example of the eclectic strain in 1920s American architecture. Combining Spanish Revival and Renaissance Revival elements on an imposing buff-brick body with a red tile roof, Shenandoah is an unique school buidling and a treasure to its neighbors.

Unfortunately, Adams’ recommendations still include the closure and merger of Mann and Sherman in a new school. This time, Mann is suggested for demolition.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

Adams Proposes 17, Not 29, School Closings

by Michael R. Allen

Tonight, St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) Superintendent Kelvin Adams presented to the Special Administrative Board (SAB) his recommendations for school closures and consolidations. While consultants MGT of America had recommended 29 closures, Adams recommends 17. Adams’ plan makes one wonder why MGT was hired at all, given how far off their plan was from the needs of the district identified by its superintendent.

Adams recommends closing the following schools in June 2009:
Ashland Branch
Baden Elementary School
Henry eMINTS Elemntary School
Clark eMINTS Elementary School
Big Picture at Des Peres School
Mark Twain Elementary School
Meda P. Washington Early Childhood Center
Scruggs Elementary School
Shepard Elementary School
Simmons-Marshall School
Blewett Middle School
Stowe Middle School
Big Picture at Turner School
Roosevelet Ninth Grade Center at Humboldt School
Big Picture at Kottmeyer School

Adams recommends closing the following schools in June 2011:
Cote Brilliante Elementary School
Mann Elementary eMINTS School
Sherman Elementary School

The following schools that MGT had proposed closing will remain open:
Gallaudet School
Patrick Henry Elementary School
Mallinckrodt Elementary School
Ames Elementary VPA School
Shaw Elementary VPS School
Shenandoah Elementary School
Hickey Elementary School
Bunche Middle School
L’Overture Middle School
Langston Middle School
McKinley Middle School
Stevens Middle School
Gateway High School (possibly in new building on site)
Nottingham CJAT School
Cleveland High @ Pruitt (no return to Cleveland)
Northwest Academy of Law

Adams retains the idea from MGT of constructing two new elementary schools — one south and one north. The south side school will combine Mann and Sherman and astonishingly is proposed for the Mann School site.

Among other recommendations from Adams is a proposal to turn the 13 SLPS-run community education centers into full service schools along the line proposed by the Board of Education; and two new alternative schools that could occupy existing buildings that have scored an overall 70 or higher in MGT’s survey.

Overall, the closures will save the district slightly less than $14 million.

The Special Administrative Board will make its final decision at a public meeting held on March 12, 2009.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

Superintendent to Present Facilities Recommendations on Thursday at Public Meeting

by Michael R. Allen

A very important meeting in the St. Louis Public Schools facilities management process occurs tomorrow night. The Special Administrative Board (SAB) will meet to hear a presentation from Superintendent Kelvin Adams on his recommendations for the facilities management plan, including a closure list. Adams’ recommendations could very well become the plan adopted by the SAB.

Neighborhood activists across the city would do well to attend and find out what the superintendent recommends.

The public meeting takes place at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 26 at the Gateway Schools complex gymansium, 1200 N. Jefferson.

A demonstration against the MGT of America facilities recommendations will commence at 5:25 p.m. outside of the Gateway Schools complex.

Dutchtown Historic Preservation Schools SLPS South St. Louis

Aldermen Support Re-Opening Cleveland High School

by Michael R. Allen

Postcard from the collection of Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

At the Monday meeting of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, three aldermen spoke strongly in favor of reopening the shuttered Cleveland High School at 4352 Louisiana Avenue in Dutchtown. The Special Administrative Board (SAB) appeared at the committee to present the proposed facilities management plan and take comments and questions from committee members.

Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner (D-25th), whose ward includes the magnificent school, was direct. During her inquiry, Kirner reminded the Board of the earlier plan to reopen Cleveland, and stated that “I want to know that still holds.”

In response, SAB Member Richard Gaines stated only that the cost of reopening Cleveland would be at least $40 million. Gaines made no further comment.

The Board of Education authorized closure of Cleveland High School in 2006 with the stipulation that it be renovated and reopened. In 2007, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education placed the St. Louis Public Schools under the control of a three-person appointed Special Administrative Board. That Board has made no move to find funding for making good on the District’s earlier pledge to Dutchtown that the school would open again.

Cleveland housed a successful Naval JROTC program that is now temporarily housed at Pruitt School. The in the proposed District facilities plan drafted by consultants MGT of America, the Naval JROTC program would move to Vashon High School. Teachers and students in the JROTC program oppose the move.

Cleveland alum Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th) also spoke in favor of reopening the school. According to Schmid, the school’s last principal disliked the building and sought its closure despite support for the building from students and faculty. Schmid reminded the SAB that the District has worked closely with Dutchtown organizations, including the Alliance to Save Cleveland High School, to create plans for rehabilitation.

Schmid wondered why the SAB was not taking action against the state of Missouri, which owes the St. Louis Public School millions of dollars as part of the desegregation settlement.

“We are not united together marching on our state capital” to get the money, said Schmid. Schmid wondered if those funds would allow the District to reduce the number of schools that it plans to close, or fund projects like rehabilitation of Cleveland High School.

Alderwoman Marlene Davis (D-19th), whose ward includes Vashon High School, joined with Kirner and Schmid to voice support for reopening Cleveland as the home of the JROTC program. Davis stated that federal funds might help the District get Cleveland reopened.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

Hilliker Sale Listings for Historic City Schools

by Michael R. Allen

On the website of the Hilliker Corporation brokerage is a page listing all for-sale buildings owned by the St. Louis Public Schools. Also on the website are documents related to the sale process, including a sample sales contract with the current deed addendum that prohibits a buyer from demolishing a building and requires rehabilitation be conducted following the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (see page 14 of the contract).

The schools that are included in Landmarks Association’s survey of school buildings built before 1938 currently for sale are Central High School at 3616 N. Garrison Avenue (1902, William B. Ittner), Hempstead Elementary School at 5872 Minerva Avenue (1907, William B. Ittner), Gardenville School at 6651 Gravois (1907, William B. Ittner), Jackson School at 1632 Hogan Street (1898, William B. Ittner), Hodgen School at 2730 Eads Avenue (1884, Otto Wilhelmi), Garfield School at 3200 Texas Avenue (1937, George Sanger), Eliot School at 4242 Grove Avenue (under contract; 1898, William B. Ittner) and Scullin School at 4610 N. Kingshighway (1927, Rockwell Milligan). Besides those eight buildings, there are other post-1938 buildings for sale.

Hilliker’s website includes historic information about each school, including the name of the architect, date of construction and even architectural style. The presentation clearly is designed to call attention to the beauty and unique history of the buildings to lure responsible buyers.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

AIA Chapter Issues Response to SLPS Facilities Plan

The American Institute of Architects – St. Louis Chapter has issued the following response to the St. Louis Public Schools’ draft Facilities Management Plan, one that is consistent with the statement earlier published by Landmarks Association of St. Louis:

AIA St. Louis Response to the Comprehensive Facilities Review:

The members of the American Institute of Architects St. Louis Chapter, of whom approximately forty percent reside or work in the City of St. Louis, commend the St. Louis Public Schools for undertaking the Comprehensive Facilities Review. We are pleased that a local architectural firm, David Mason & Associates participated in the study.

We believe, however, that the study focuses on creating a more effective 20th century school system, rather than a visionary 21st century school system to graduate students ready to lead our community into the future. We need to think differently, envision bolder and ponder a different kind of future.

We believe that the MGT plan falls far short of its goal as a “visionary plan” that considers “all options” and strives to find “ways to revitalize St. Louis neighborhoods.” Those statements are noble and deserve to be brought front and center in the SLPS plan. We challenge the St. Louis Public Schools and the Special Administrative Board to envision an urban school system that can be a model of efficiency and the keystone to the redevelopment of languishing St. Louis neighborhoods.

– We encourage community-based schools

Neighborhood schools are the anchors to Livable Communities: The local school, with its athletic and cultural resources, stabilizes the community and provides a place of pride that unites generations of residents. A livable community is one where residents can live, learn, work, and play without using an interstate highway, one where children can walk to their school and learn alongside their neighbors.

– We encourage the pursuit of mixed-use partnerships

Mixed-use occupancy is another hallmark of livable communities. Private-public partnerships could bring significant investment resources to the district while serving community needs. We encourage the pursuit of creative mixed-use partnerships to renovate portions of the buildings with venues for social services, senior housing, government offices, or other functions perhaps through innovative lease or land-lease agreements. Creative partnerships can assist in the funding and maintenance of schools. We believe that cross generational uses of school buildings benefits both generations and provides a synergy otherwise left untapped.

– We encourage sustainability through renovation vs. new construction

The best way to limit our environmental footprint is to continue to use and maintain the resources we have already accumulated. Sustainability begins with re-use and the old recycling adage “re-use, reduce, and recycle” starts with re-use with good reason. High-performance energy efficient buildings do not have to be new. Many of today’s emerging green building technologies can be easily adapted to the existing, historic, architecturally-significant buildings in the St. Louis Public Schools portfolio.

Exposure to sustainable design solutions within schools offers an incredible teaching opportunity and aids in the development of young stewards for the environment and transforms the buildings themselves into learning opportunities. Schools across the country are developing ways for schools to manufacture energy that is then used by the schools and even sold on the market. We see no innovative thinking along these lines.

– We support protection of the historic legacy of the schools

In cases of resale, we support the current contract terms which require renovation of historic school properties in accordance with the standards set forth by the Department of the Interior, and encourage the use of design and construction professionals trained in these standards. We do not support the deed restrictions placed on the property.

We suggest re-visiting the current restrictions to allow new approaches which help St. Louis Public Schools continue their legacy of innovation and show bolder leadership.

The St. Louis Public Schools are challenged to play a key role in revitalizing and rebuilding St. Louis neighborhoods, and its stewardship responsibility must go well beyond its students. We believe that the students’ needs are best met when their schools meet that long range responsibility.

The American Institute of Architects St. Louis chapter does not just wish to comment and leave. In years gone by, a close collaborative relationship with AIA St. Louis and the St. Louis School Board was forged and we suggest that once again, we work closely with you to view the plan with sustainable vision.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

SLPS to Open Its Own Charter Schools?

by Michael R. Allen

The Slay for Mayor website posted an interesting item today. The writer mentions a Suburban Journals article that featured quotes from St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams:

According to the Sub Journal reporter, Dr. Adams said the public school district could open five charter schools of its own next year. He said that these charters, like the public charter schools currently attended by about 9,000 of the City’s children, would have autonomy in their administration and governing board and more flexibility in their school days and types of curriculum.

Does this possibility merely coincide with the current facilities management planning process and its potential to generate massive school closures?

Read more here.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS South St. Louis

Deferred Maintenance at McKinley Indicative of Larger Problem

by Michael R. Allen

The recommended facilities management plan for the St. Louis Public Schools prepared by MGT of America does not address one of the district’s main problems — the cycle of deferred maintenance. While the consultants have acknowledged the need for an aggressive maintenance plan in public statements, the recommendations revolve around closures, new construction and extensive rehabilitation. In reality, many of the district’s buildings do not need extensive work, but rather need long-delayed maintenance work. The District famously allows $10,000 problems to grow into $100,000 problems, and there is little indication that pattern will not happen again.

The media reports many myths about historic schools perpetuated by District staff and the consultants. Foremost is the notion that many schools have major lead paint problems. The consultants’ own report actually gives most of the historic schools very high HealthySEAT ratings, those ratings developed by the EPA that measure abatement of environmental toxins.

These high ratings are no coincidence. After all, betweem 1989 and 1991, the District spent $200 million on a Capital Improvement Program. That program included extensive window replacement, lead abatement and asbestos removal. In fact, the work was so thorough that preservationists became alarmed at potential threats to historic features, and forged a wonderful working partnership with the District and its architects, McCarthy-Fleming. The resulting work elevated the conditions of dozens of school buildings while ensuring that new windows were historically accurate. In many cases, new wooden windows were placed on the front and side elevations with aluminum windows on the rear elevation.

Hence, the windows one sees on the District’s historic schools are actually less than twenty years old. The wooden windows are replicas, not lead-painted old ones. The trouble is that the District has not done a good job of upkeep, leaving paint to flake. With the Capital Improvement Program a distant memory, the flaking paint alarms those who do not know the truth.

The windows — and some doors — of McKinley Classical Junior Academy sat 2156 Russell Boulevard in McKinley-Fox are a great example of the problem. Built in 1902 as a high school and designed by William B. Ittner, the school’s windows were completely replaced during the Capital Improvement Program. That is not very obvious now. Not only are the sashes, sills and brick molds in need of paint, some entire sashes are missing and replaced by plywood!

Additionally, limestone on a front window bay is spalling, probably due to inappropriate mortar used to repoint its joints.

MGT of America recommends moving McKinley CJA to the current Bunche Middle School (originally Madison School), and relocating Gateway IT High School here. This move involves millions of dollars in rehabilitation. What McKinley really needs is a smaller repair program.

Perception can become reality. If the District does not maintain its investments in school repairs, the image of the schools will lead to public support for massive capital programs. Obviously, with budget deficits, the District can more easily float a bond issue for major work than find money for minor work. However, back when the District had a professional in-house maintenance staff, work was much more consistent and one did not see boarded-up windows on our fine schools. Furthermore, a facilities plan that does not include more than a promise of aggressive maintenance will lead us right back to where we keep ending up.

Historic Preservation Schools SLPS

SLPS Facilities Recommendations Lack Strong Historic Preservation Component

by Michael R. Allen

In my capacity as Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, I delivered a version of this statement at Wednesday’s public meeting on the St. Louis Public Schools Facilities Management Plan. Please submit your own comments online at or at the next public meeting, tomorrow (Saturday, February 7) at 10:00 a.m. at Vashon High School, 3035 Cass Avenue.

Among the findings of the November public meetings on this plan was that 74% of respondents consider historic preservation to be a somewhat to very important component of a facilities plan. That position is not well represented in the recommendations from MGT of America.

Of the 29 schools recommended for closure, 18 are identified as historically significant in a 1988 survey of District buildings built before 1938. Landmarks Association completed this survey working with the District and using funds from the State of Missouri, and this survey often has been the basis for wise decision-making for the District’s numerous historic buildings. We are blessed to have so many wonderful public school buildings, although that blessing may come into question when schools need to be closed.

The 1988 survey identified as historically significant not only the celebrated buildings designed by William B. Ittner but also those designed by his predecessors and his successors, Rockwell Milligan and George Sanger. Make no mistake — the architectural achievements of other district architects are as worth preservation as those of Ittner. Unfortunately, the closure list places this legacy in jeopardy, not to mention the buildings built since 1938 that have not been surveyed, including Nottingham and Gateway schools.

Currently, the District has an inventory of ten closed historic pre-1938 schools. The closure list adds 18 schools for a total of 28 historic schools at risk. Nineteen of these would have protection after sale against demolition under state and federal landmark designations, but nine would have no protection at all. And none have any protection under landmark laws if the Board of Education itself seeks demolition. The District needs to provide that protection in policy and by sales contract, but the draft facilities plan offers no recommendation for adopting these protections.

In fact, the recommended principles for repurposing would seem to condemn some schools to demolition. Nowhere in these principles is the policy that the Board of Education adopted in 2003, after Theresa School was nearly sold to a developer who planned to replace it with a Walgreens. The Board forbade sale of any historic schools to owners who planned demolition. Thanks to that policy, we have kept all of the historic schools closed in the 2003-4 and 2007 rounds standing, and many of these have found reuse using state and federal historic rehabilitation programs, including Theresa School.

The Special Administrative Board must adopt the past policy forbidding sales that would cause demolition as well as adopting a policy against demolition of historic district facilities. Neighborhoods that have enjoyed the architectural anchor a grand public school provides do not need park space, open space, parking or outdoor labs where the schools stand. The neighborhoods deserve to retain their irreplaceable landmarks. Thus, the facilities plan recommendations regarding demolition are troubling and should not be adopted.

Another provision of the facilities plan that is questionable is the recommendation to cluster three elementary school closures each in north and south city in order to build new elementary schools. Besides being costly, this recommendation maximizes the number of school closures in a plan that recommends a large number. Why not close two of each group and remodel and possibly expand the third? In the areas where a new school is recommended, assembling a large site might entail demolition of one of the three buildings, making this recommendation even worse. Cote Brilliante and Hickey have notably high combined scores, for instance. Given the short duration of preparation of this plan, I doubt that there has been full examination of use of an existing school in these combined groups.

Our historic schools are public buildings, cultural assets and neighborhood anchors. As the district’s needs change, the buildings should not be lost. One never knows when they will need to be called back into service, or when a new use will arise. Neighborhoods across the city need these buildings for their future.