Friday, June 09, 2006

Sarasota Herald Tribune Editorial

Article published Jun 8, 2006

High noon for Riverview

Desire for preservation must be weighed against students' needsIt's time to build a new Riverview High School. It's overcrowded, outdated and rundown. Most schools are expected to last 40 years. Riverview was built 48 years ago and has been modified and patched so many times it's a shadow of its former self.

At long last, change appears imminent. To make way for construction of a modern Sarasota County campus capable of handling a projected population of 2,900 students, portable classrooms have been packed into a small area away from the work site. Construction nets line the perimeter.

Students, parents and faculty might assume that the project is moving forward and that a new school, as promised, will open in two years.

But before work can begin, a major issue remains to be settled. Some architects, preservationists and alumni want one or more of the Riverview buildings that were designed by renowned Sarasota architect Paul Rudolph to be restored, citing the structures' architectural significance.

School Board workshop
The Sarasota County School Board will hold a workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday in its chambers at 1980 Landings Blvd. to discuss the Riverview plans -- specifically a facilities assessment and a University of Florida professor's feasibility study on restoring some of the school's glass-and-steel structures. We hope this report provides specific cost comparisons, which should have been available earlier.

We urge anyone interested in this project to attend the workshop, though the School Board will not be taking public comment. The workshop is open to the public and will be telecast on Comcast Channel 20 the week of June 19.

The board could vote as soon as June 20 on the campus footprint.

Schools Superintendent Gary Norris and staff predict that saving one or more of the Rudolph buildings will double the time required to rebuild the campus, making students and teachers suffer through four or maybe five years of construction.

We sympathize with the preservationists' desire to save the Rudolph architecture, but at this point the most pressing question is: What's best for the students?

Burden is on the preservationists
Because the need to rebuild Riverview is universally accepted and has been discussed for years, the burden is on preservationists to make a case for saving some of the buildings. They should offer detailed information on what preservation would mean in terms of costs, how the buildings would be used, what construction codes would be affected by a historical designation and what impact the renovation would have on students and staff.

Any restoration work would have to be incorporated with minimal delays to the start of the project -- no more than a month or two. The board's vote has already been pushed back to address these concerns.

Preserving the buildings is contradictory to the $90 million plan Norris and staff crafted after considering many options. The current plans consider student safety (keeping strangers off campus) and containment (truancy management), 440,000 square feet of classrooms placed to form small learning communities and a design that allows for changing technology.

The plans seek to minimize disruption for students and teachers. That's important, because classes will continue in the old buildings while new ones are built to one side. There's no wiggle room on this 42-acre site; most school districts want 100 acres for a high school campus.

Students attend high school for four years. Building a better Riverview should not take that long.
The SAVE Riverview task Force would comment on this editorial by indicating that in 2002 the School Board's architect presented a plan that included the comment that the Rudolph buildings should be incorporated in the campus design. Then in 2004, when Dr Norris was hired, the architect summarized the report and included the same recommendation: the Rudolph buildings should be incorporated into the design.

Apparently in Nov. of 2005 a neighborhood meeting (neighborhood around the school) was held to show the new building designs and campus. This was not known by the community until about 3 months ago when Anastasia Bowen's article about this was published in the SHT. The SAVE Riverview Task Force was then formed to see if a way could be found to save these buildings. The group is all volunteers, has no funds and so far has had very little time to accomplish our tasks. We are persevering.

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