Friday, February 09, 2007

School Board OKs National Trust Review

Article published Feb 7, 2007

Sarasota board open to saving historic school
School Board OKs Riverview study

After weeks of lobbying by local architects, school district officials appear more open to saving the historic buildings at Riverview High as they rebuild the school.

But it can't delay construction, increase costs, diminish security or interfere with student learning, those officials said Tuesday.

"We still want the school open by 2009; this is what we want to see," board member Shirley Brown said. "If we can see that and save that portion of the old school, we'll go forward.

"The School Board on Tuesday agreed to invite an architect from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to Sarasota in the next few weeks to study the viability of saving the historic courtyard buildings, designed by architect Paul Rudolph.

The Historic Trust will host a three-day "brainstorming session" with 15 to 20 interested parties -- including architects, Riverview teachers and parents, residents and district officials -- to see what can be done to preserve the Rudolph buildings and build a school that meets the needs of 21st century education.

The board's decision to hold the independent review was supported by all the members except Chairman Frank Kovach.It is a victory for local architects who have been pushing the board to reconsider its vote last fall to tear down the Rudolph buildings to make way for a parking lot and bus loop.

"It's an iconic building," said Edward "Tim" Seibert, an AIA fellow and member of the Save Riverview Committee.

"Paul Rudolph was a very fine architect, known around the world. I hope we can open up a conversation and make (the preservation) happen."But while they were open to the idea of investigating ways to preserve Rudolph's work, the School Board was clear it may not result in any change.

"I think our students deserve a safe and healthy school to go to," board member Caroline Zucker said. "If it is going to delay the project at all, I'm not in favor of it.

"At the end of the three-day "charrette," the National Trust architect will make a recommendation to the School Board on how to proceed with Riverview High, a suggestion the board can accept, reject or modify.If the board chooses to proceed with the demolition, Superintendent Gary Norris is suggesting it wait at least two years to give the community a chance to raise money and find another use for the structure.

Norris compared it to the process the district used to save Sarasota High School's old red brick building, by accepting a proposal from the Ringling School of Art and Design to transform it into a visual arts education center.

"If there's really this cry out there to save the building, I think the money is out there, too," Norris said.

Mold, drainage and other problems have plagued Riverview for years, and school officials have maintained it would cost too much to save it.

But preservationists say the district didn't do enough to try to save the buildings designed by Rudolph, one of the founders of the Sarasota School of architecture. They recently nominated the glass and steel structures to be included on the list of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historical Sites.

"At Tuesday's meeting, the board also instructed BMK Architects to proceed with its construction drawings for Riverview. Under the current plan, construction of a new school building on vacant land would start in September and be completed in fall 2009. The students would relocate to the new building and the Rudolph buildings would be demolished in late 2009 or early 2010. Then a parking lot and bus loop would be built.

School Board members continue to express concern about the project's price tag, now hovering at $134 million. At their meeting next week, they will discuss ways to reduce costs, which may mean cutting back on extras such as the planetarium, a balcony in the auditorium and computers for students.

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