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.


bloggin’ in b-flat said...

St. Louis has a rich history that is often portrayed in our architecture. I love to go downtown and look up at the buildings. It's hard to keep my eyes at ground level when there is so much to see up there. Carvings, gargoyle-like figures, beautiful masonry work. Design.

It's shameful that our political "leaders" have no respect for history and beauty. We pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Funny that all our school buildings are no longer fit for students, but some are suitable for lofts. What is going on in this town? I say, follow the money. Somebody's getting the graft, and we're getting the shaft.

sbc said...

I went to school here from '75 to '79. There were many kids living in the surrounding area of four square blocks and Mann School (along with Holy Family Middle School and the Grand-Oak Hill Community Center) really added to the sense of close-knit, village-like community. Gone is this community, and gone is the village-like atmosphere.

P Westermann said...

I also attended Mann School, but only for 2 years--1974-1976. I love that old building--dreamed of turning it into a home at one time! The staircases are unbelievable!! Where do you find a school with those large classrooms, cloakrooms, and massive hallways? It would be a huge mistake to tear this building down!

Anonymous said...

I went to Mann in the 50's and I dearly love that building. It's archiecture is historical and it's just beautiful to look at. The inside is so nice and big. I can't believe they would even consider tearing it down. We need to keep these historical sites in St. Louis. It's part of us.

Anonymous said...

Instead of paying millions to these tasteless, paper-shuffling consultants, they should pay locals with expertise in rehab & renovation of St. Louis buildings to bring the school up-to-date. If they tear that building down, and we let them, it will just be more evidence that St. Louis DESERVES to sink further into the gutter.

Anonymous said...

Any word about what's happening with this school? We are considering buying a home on that block and noticed there are 4 homes total for sale on the block - I hope that is not a bad sign.

Vanishing STL said...

We believe that SLPS has given up on the idea of closing Mann, Sherman and/or Shenandoah due to lack of money to build a new consolidated school.

As for 4 houses for sale on that block, I don't think that has anything to do with the school, but is more about the fact that we are still in a very tough real estate market.

I know several people who live in Tower Grove South and they all really enjoy living there. It is a great neighborhood!

Mike and Elizabeth said...

I went to Mann school in the 1980's. I met a girl there named Elizabeth, we was boyfriend and girlfriend in third grade. She moved away and I saw her again when we attended Roosevelt High, we had a baby, and got married life took us on different paths but we found eackother again and are madly I love planning our second wedding.

Anonymous said...

I went to there 85 86. Watched the Challenger blow up. Mrs Kimble was my main teacher. Billy Lovelady was the dude who showed me around. We caught up years ago. Christopher Ray is my name hmu