Friday, March 6, 2009
Ittner's Mann Elementary Threatened With Closure and Demolition for a Replacement School
Horace Mann Elementary School was designed by St. Louis Public Schools Commissioner of Buildings William B. Ittner. and was constructed in 1901 at the corner of Oak Hill and Juniata to serve the Tower Grove South neighborhood. Now 108 years later after the surrounding neighborhood has seen a resounding resurgence in the last 15+ years like many neighborhoods built on rehabbing and preservation of the existing solidly built masonry housing stock, the St. Louis Public Schools is threatening to close the school and likely demolish it simply to build a new structure at the recommendation of an out of town consultant (MGT) and the Superintendent!
Mann Elementary was one of a series of schools built in 1901 which debuted Ittner's revolutionary E shaped open-plan which features a daylit corridor with classrooms on one side, and alternating wings of additional rooms and open courtyards on the other side which brings ample daylight into the corridor (see this StL Mag article for a brief overview of Ittner's legacy). The building's National Register nomination form prepared in 1990 by Landmarks Association lists the building's interior features such as hardwood floors, oak doors, transoms & railings, original light fixtures, leaded glass entrance transoms and surrounds all intact and in good condition. St. Louis Brick's recent post about the proposed closing of Mann has several close-up photos of details from Ittner's drawings which are on display in the building.
MGT's Facility Management Plan is obviously biased against historic school buildings. The plan recommends abandoning buildings that need upgrades in systems or that are considered not energy efficient due to single pane windows, older hvac systems and other factors which are common in the older buildings. It makes no mention of the options available to upgrade older buildings to become energy efficient and meet today's needs. Instead, on top of closing the historic schools, they recommend replacing groups of closed schools by building two new elementary schools. Their recommendation called for a new school "in the vicinity of" Shenandoah (which threatened that historic building), but in the more recent Superintendent's recommendations, a new school could replace the historic Mann building.
If Mann were to close, SLPS is making a huge mistake in assuming that everyone will simply make the move to a new school outside the neighborhood (there is no other open land in the area). If a new school were built on the site, school service would be interrupted for a full year at least. The largely immigrant population of families that attend Mann are not going to stick around and wait, they will simply move to St. Louis County. This trend is already occurring where other schools are threatened with closure, so not only is the Special Administrative Board threatening to destroy the public school system, they are directly causing an erosion of the population gains that the City has enjoyed over the last several years (the first growth in decades). Additionally, Mann hosts many additional programs that serve the students and community, which is the exact type of model school that the school board claims that they want.
In MGT's facilites study, they claimed that Mann could accommodate 390 students. The problem with their methods is that MGT counted gymnasiums, art and music classrooms as additional capacity, which doesn't reflect reality since elementary students spend the majority of their day in their primary classroom, so counting gyms, art and music rooms does not add up. According to the Superintendent's recent recommendations, the number of students that Mann can accommodate is 325 students, and with a current enrollment of 275 students it is used to 84% of capacity. This is one of the highest scores in usage efficiency, so why would you close a school that is the closest to full capacity?
This Thursday, March 12th, at 6:00 pm the Special Administrative Board will meet to consider the Superintendent's recent recommendations. The meeting will be held in the gymnasium of the Gateway School on North Jefferson. Please consider coming to show your support for keeping Mann Elementary (and other neighborhood schools) open and intact.