Wednesday, April 1, 2009

U-City Public School District Tries to Con the Tax Payers

Next Tuesday, April 7th, University City voters will go to the polls to consider a $53.6 million bond issue for it's public schools. There is no doubt that the school district's buildings need improvement.  Like in many school districts basic maintenance and upkeep to University City Public Schools has not kept up with the need.  Several schools also need additional space.  This however is not a good excuse to waste tax payer money to demolish two historic structurally sound and functional schools to build new facilities in their place.  If this sounds like a reoccurring theme, it's because the St. Louis Public School district is trying to do the same exact thing.
Last Tuesday evening after returning from Jefferson City, lobbying for historic tax credits, I toured Pershing Elementary School, one of the buildings proposed for demolition at an open house that was held to show the condition of the building.   The Ittner designed school built in 1922 is in
need of maintenance, not necessarily replacement.  Overall the building is in good shape. The building has a 10 year old addition to the rear with several classrooms.  Upon entering the building, visitors were shown a poorly produced propaganda video.  The video talks first about the great history of U-City's school buildings, then rolls into the "problems" that they are using to justify demolition and replacement.  The "problems" included a leaking or clogged downspout, a ceiling tile that had collapsed because of a roof leak, and several photos of minor hairline cracks in the walls.
An example of the "major problems" with the building

As we walked around the building, the tour leader pointed out the hairline cracks and ceiling tile issues.   In the newer portion of the building more hairline cracks were pointed out on one wall, which appeared to possibly have a poor drywall taping job.  This condition was isolated to one area.  After these comment, I said thanks and started looking around on my own.

I spoke to a few teachers in the older portion of the building and asked if they found their classrooms inadequate, and none said yes.  One mentioned having trouble closing a window, but I noticed that the windows are insulated replacements, probably about the same age as the newer addition. 
The kindergarten room.  The teacher said she is very happy with the room.

Like any older school building, Pershing likely could use a renovation including upgraded mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.  If there are programmatic spaces that are inadequate, an addition could accommodate these areas.  Several other district buildings including the historic Flynn Park Elementary (which was built only one year after Pershing) are to be renovated and added to as needed as part of the bond issue.  
Hard to believe that can happen in such an old building, right?

Renovating a school building usually can be accomplished for one third to one half the cost of demolition and total replacement.  To appease residents who are concerned about the loss of the historic building, U-City is proposing to build a near replica of the original building, although the rendering shown on the school district's site seems to be missing one important element, namely front doors.  Another section of their site indicates that they will be going "green" with the new buildings, but there is no greener way to build than to re-use and renovate an existing building.

1 comment:

itsme said...

Wow, I just don't get this. What is the real motivation, do you think? My kids go to a school just as old in Kirkwood,but I've never heard anyone propose tearing it down. I dont think anyone would dare in the current climate.