Sunday, March 29, 2009

SLPS Superintendent to Speak at Mann Elementary Tuesday Night

St. Louis Public School Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams will be hosting a meeting this Tuesday evening, March 31 at Mann Elementary to discuss the school's future. The meeting will be at 6pm in the school's relatively new (15 years old) gymnasium east of the main building at Juniata and Oak Hill. On March 12th, the Special Administrative Board voted to adopt a plan that would close Mann in 2011 and replace it with a new school, which is rumored to be built on the site of the existing historic school resulting in it's demolition.

We encourage everyone interested in preserving Mann Elementary and keeping a model neighborhood school that works intact to attend Tuesday to show your support for taking Mann off the closing list for 2011.
Last Tuesday evening, members of the Alliance to Preserve Mann Elementary, were given an extensive tour of the interior of the historic school building, the original portion of which dates to 1901. We were impressed with the overall excellent condition of the school's interior. The building has generally been well maintained, and is exceptionally clean. The hardwood floors and granite base moldings found throughout the halls and classrooms shine bright enough to see a reflection.
The building's windows look almost new, and that is because they are. They were completely replaced with exact replicas of the originals in 1991 as part of a $100 million district wide renovation bond issue. The school's gymnasium is also almost new. It was completed in 1994, at a cost of $1,360,500.00 according to City real estate records.
Like any school of its age with older systems, the building could use an overhaul of it's HVAC system as well as electrical and plumbing upgrades. This presents an opportunity to install new systems through a renovation that would be more energy efficient and reduce operating costs.

Beyond the excellent condition of Mann's physical structure, there is the fact that the student enrollment is near capacity. The school is part of the EMints program which provides a computer for every two students. Additionally, students at Mann are able to participate in Oasis tutoring, Faithful Friends, and 40 students are enrolled in Urban Future programs. Mann is a model neighborhood school that should be removed from the Closing list.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Downtown St. Louis Loses Street Level Transit

One of the last Metro Buses in the CBD at Olive & 9th in front of The Paul Brown

Starting Monday, March 30th, Downtown St. Louis will be without street level transit for the first time since before the Civil War. According to the St. Louis Public Library, the Missouri Railway Company opened the first streetcar line running on Olive Street between Fourth & 10th Streets on July 4th 1859. By 1903 a massive web of streetcar lines fanned out from the dense grid of the CBD. Eventually buses replaced the streetcar lines, but the pattern of lines emanating from within the CBD core remained.

Streetcars on Olive Street sometime around 1915-1920

As part of Metro's massive service cutting measures to deal with the failure of Prop M by St. Louis County voters last November, Metro Buses will no longer travel through Downtown's Central Business District east of Tucker Boulevard. Instead, all buses headed Downtown will be routed to the 14th Street Transit Center south of Savvis Center. From there anyone wanting to go into the CBD will need to transfer to MetroLink. Apparently Metro does not feel that a concentration of 90,000 workers and 10,000+ residents does not warrant Metro Bus service Downtown. Never mind that St. Louis City passed it's portion of Prop M in 1997! and has not been able to use it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Call to Arms - Join us next Tuesday, March 24 at the state capitol to lobby for Historic Tax Credits

As most if not all of you are aware, the Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit is currently under attack with proposed legislation in the Missouri Senate.

Senate Bill 45 otherwise known as the "Quality Jobs Act" has been laden with amendments which would cap the Historic Tax Credit and END THE PROGRAM after June 30,2011.

Other Missouri tax credit programs would be affected by this bill including: Brownfields, Low Income Housing, Neighborhood Preservation, TIFs and many others.

A growing group of architects, preservationists, developers, and others whose business would be affected by the passage of this bill are planning to go to Jefferson City next Tuesday, March 24th to push for removal of caps and sunset provisions for the Historic Tax Credit, or otherwise prevent the bill from moving forward as currently written.

Please consider joining us at the state capitol to show our support for the Historic Tax Credit. We will be meeting at 9:45 am on the ground floor of the capitol at the west entrance near the cafeteria. Then we will break off to talk to the individual senators. For more information please contact Anne Suggs with the Missouri Historic Preservation & Economic Development Coalition at 314.621.6115

Below is the pasted text from SB45 pertaining to the Historic Tax Credit. For a full summary of the bill, click here. If you can't join us, please take time on Tuesday to e-mail, call or write your state senator, representative and governor.

No more than fifty million dollars in historic preservation tax credits may be authorized in fiscal year 2010. The act prohibits the authorization of historic preservation tax credits after June 30, 2010, unless a fiscal year allocation is made. Such allocation cannot exceed fifty million dollars per fiscal year. The department of economic development is required to limit tax credit authorizations for St. Louis and Jackson Counties, and the City of St. Louis to the percentage of each fiscal year's allocation that each such city or county bears to the state's population. Applications denied due to the limitations provided under this act will receive priority under the next fiscal year's allocation. No more than twenty-five thousand dollars in
historic preservation tax credits may be awarded per project for residential
rehabilitation projects. No historic preservation tax credits may be
authorized after June 30, 2011. (Section 253.550)

Thursday's Post-Dispatch had a very good editorial on the situation, read it here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

One landmark that should go away - Envisioning better connections to the Arch Grounds and Riverfront districts

The elevated lanes just north of the Arch Grounds

Memorial Drive and the Depressed Lanes below which carry
only 4 lanes of traffic - the same as the New River Bridge

Rarely do I promote demolition on this site, but this is one structure whose removal would vastly improve the urban landscape. For as long as the Gateway Arch has graced St. Louis, Interstate 70 has functioned as both a physical and psychological barrier between the City and it's iconic symbol as well as the riverfront beyond. Also cut-off from Downtown are the historic Laclede's Landing and Chouteau's Landing districts to the north and south of the Arch.
The space under the elevated lanes has about the same ambiance as that
under the St. Louis Centre bridges, but this extends for several blocks

In what is a very unusual arrangement, the National Park Service owns the land under the interstate and to the western boundary of Memorial Drive (formerly 3rd Street) and leases it to MODOT. In approximately 2015, construction will likely be complete on the New Mississippi River north of Downtown St. Louis officially re-routing I-70 and a good portion of it's traffic to the East Side from its current alignment west of the Arch Grounds to the Poplar Street Bridge. Currently the plan is to keep the current highway between the New River Bridge and the PSB and simply re-name it I-44.
The view into Downtown at the end of the Eads Bridge. Welcome to St. Louis!
We can do better than this, right?

Since traffic will be reduced on this stretch of roadway,
however there could be a better solution: Eliminate the depressed and elevated structures and merge the lanes with Memorial Drive as an attractive landscaped urban boulevard. This may sound extreme, but this same concept has been accomplished in cities across North America including Portland, San Francisco, Toronto, Milwaukee, and several others. Take a look at some examples here.

The former Embarcadero Freeway created a wall around San Francisco
Photo from

The Embarcadero today after removal of the freeway

Currently the National Park Service is going through a planning process to adopt a new General Management Plan which will guide the management as well as potential improvements to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the Gateway Arch and surrounding grounds) for the next 15-20 years. Through midnight Monday, the NPS is taking public comments and ideas to help them finalize the Draft General Management Plan which lists several concepts and alternatives. None of the concepts currently include looking at changes to I-70 except a limited "lid" over a portion of the depressed lanes. This would only solve a small portion of the problem of the I-70 barrier, and leave the oppressive elevated highway structure un-touched.
Separation anxiety. The proposed "Lid" focusing only on three blocks
would do nothing for the Olive Street corridor and blocks north

If you would like to see a more visionary plan for the areas bordering the Arch Grounds (such as removing the freeway) or of you have ideas for the grounds themselves, please take a moment to fill out the on-line comment form and submit your thoughts.

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.