Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Recent School Board Decision

Here is an article from the Pelican Press - a Sarasota newspaper:

Save Riverview campaign continuing to grow

But the board continues with plans for a new high school facility
By Rachel Brown Hackney

When Molly Cardamone appeared before the Sarasota County School Board on May 16, she spoke not only as a former Sarasota mayor on a mission to preserve historic structures in the city but as a retired teacher whose first posting was at Riverview High School.

Noting her personal connection to the 1958 Paul Rudolph structures on the Riverview campus – examples of the internationally known Sarasota School of Architecture, which the board seems prepared to raze to make way for a new school – Cardamone pleaded for preservation. She and others united in the Save Riverview effort were dismayed to have learned on the morning of the board meeting, she said, that an item on the consent agenda dealt with the ranking of construction managers for the Riverview project; that item mentioned “demolition of the existing facility.”

The agenda item seemed to contradict a promise Superintendent Gary Norris and board Chairman Carol Todd had made on April 28 to her and others, Cardamone said, that “there would be community dialogue” before any further steps were taken in regard to the Rudolph buildings.

Norris responded that the agenda item did not violate the spirit of that agreement. Board attorney Art Hardy explained further that, if the board approved the action, that simply meant district officials could begin to negotiate with a contractor to manage the eventual project at Riverview. “Under any scenario, there will be demolition involved in this project,” he pointed out.“This in no way binds the board to any particular plan,” Hardy said. Responding to a question from board member John P. Lewis, Hardy added, “You don’t know exactly what you’re asking the construction manager to do yet, but you want to have somebody on line so that when you say, ‘This is what we want to do,’ they can hit the ground running with it.”

Following the discussion, the board voted 5-0 to approve the consent agenda, including the Riverview item.

Cardamone’s appearance at the board meeting reflected a recent groundswell of support to save the Rudolph structures. The movement doesn’t involve just local residents, according to Cardamone and well-known Sarasota architect Carl Abbott, who spoke with the Pelican Press in a joint telephone interview. The London Times recently featured an article on the school board’s plans, Abbott said, and architectural journals have spread the word across the United States.

Lee Byron, a real estate agent with Michael Saunders and Company, told the Pelican Press she had taken a petition to a recent meeting of the firm’s agents and had been met with enormous support for saving the buildings. Referring to her fellow agents, she said, “They just exploded in wanting to sign it.”

At the May 16 meeting, Cardamone held up another petition filled with signatures that had been gathered in just 10 minutes, she said, after discussion of the issue at a function attended by a Save Riverview committee member.

When he first learned the school board was looking at tearing down the Rudolph buildings, Abbott said, the emotional toll was “like a tear in my heart.” He conceded the structures are “not in good condition,” but he is adamant they can be rehabilitated through use of state grant funds designated for such purposes.“It makes sense to reuse what is of value,” he added.

Board member Laura Benson knows only too well the limitations of the current facilities at Riverview – including the Rudolph structures: Her son was a freshman there this year. During a special meeting the week before the May 16 session, she referred to the school’s condition as “deplorable.”

In a telephone interview, Benson expressed frustration over the fact that the Save Riverview effort had not begun in earnest until the past few months, after the board members started discussing details about constructing a new high school on the Riverview campus.

She was introduced to problems with the current facilities in January 2003, she said, when Florida’s first lady, Columba Bush, paid a visit to the school. The members of Bush’s entourage were wearing black suits, Benson said. When the party exited the buildings, everyone’s clothes were “covered in a fine white dust … The dust just blew my mind.” She found herself thinking, “The kids are breathing this.”

The existing school also is too crowded for its student population, Benson said. “All the kids are on top of each other” as they move from class to class, and “parking is horrendous.”During the May 16 board meeting, Vice Chairman Frank Kovach noted he was a Riverview alumnus. “That school had pretty poor classrooms in the ‘70s,” he said, adding that Riverview students need a 21st-century facility.

Benson said she happily would vote to give any group wanting to move the Rudolph structures to another location the money the board would have to spend on demolishing them, to help pay for the move. Regarding the board’s plans to erect a new school and the effort to save the historic structures, Benson added, “Everybody is doing everything for the right reason.” However, “I don’t know how to make it a win-win at this point.”

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