Thursday, March 08, 2007

National Trust Charrette Process

From the Pelican Press:

Riverview High charrette to be held March 16-18

Question remains whether sessions will be private

A brainstorming process that may determine the fate of the historic Paul Rudolph buildings at Riverview High School in Sarasota has been set for March 16-18, the Pelican Press has learned.

The biggest question remaining in the planning is whether the "charrette," to be held under the auspices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will be open to the public, local architects Greg Hall and Mark Smith said.

However, Smith and Scott Lempe, acting associate superintendent of the Sarasota County Schools, said they felt the process would have to be open because of Florida's Sunshine laws.

"Frankly, I don't think that there is any way we can talk about spending $135 million of the taxpayers' money and not have that meeting open to the public," Lempe said, referring to the estimated cost of the new Riverview High School, which is scheduled to open in August 2009.

Hall said John Hildreth, director of the National Trust's southern office, located in Charleston, S.C., preferred the charrette be private.

In Florida, Hall said, people are used to a public issue being discussed in open session. "On the other hand, it can have the unwanted effect of politicizing the process." "[The National Trust has] found that it's easier and quicker and more direct if they just have the workshop participants in the room," Smith said.

Nonetheless, Smith has e-mailed Hildreth his concerns. If the charrette is held behind closed doors, Smith noted, Hildreth has said the conclusions will be announced in a public forum. Hildreth did not return calls.

The charrette is scheduled to begin about noon on March 16 and conclude about noon on March 18, according to Lempe. It probably will be held at the school district offices in The Landings on South Tamiami Trail, he added.

The Save Riverview committee has been advocating for the preservation of the Rudolph buildings in spite of a school board vote in June 2006 to tear down the structures in preparation for the new school. During their Feb. 6 regular meeting, the school board members agreed to the charrette. However, they were firm that they would not allow the process to delay construction.

In a Feb. 20 interview, Lempe said he had contacted Hildreth the previous week to begin the planning for the charrette. He had asked Hildreth to contact the Vancouver, British Columbia, architectural firm of Busby Perkins + Will to provide an architect to lead the sessions, as agreed to by the Save Riverview committee. Perkins + Will, Lempe said, "is recognized nationally as a leader in education design." The Sarasota firm of BMK Architects worked in partnership with Perkins + Will on the new Riverview design.

On Monday, the Save Riverview committee was working to finalize who would represent it during the charrette. Hall said he would be participating, along with Smith, the current president of the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects. Hall was not certain whether Smith would have to be counted as one of the three Save Riverview people or whether he could participate as a fourth in his AIA capacity.

Lempe said last week that he had asked the Save Riverview committee to limit its representation to three people. "Committees tend to be ineffective if they get too big," he said.

Asked whether he was optimistic the charrette could produce a workable proposal for saving the Rudolph buildings, Hall said, "It is our hope [the conclusions] will carry some weight" with the school board. "I'm happy with the way it's all come together," Smith said. "I think it's an honor for Sarasota" to have the National Trust involved in the process, he added. "It reinforces what we have been talking about as a committee and as architects" regarding the value of the Rudolph buildings as examples of the internationally known Sarasota School of Architecture.

The charrette will provide the "thorough evaluation [that] should be given" to those structures, Smith said. Moreover, "it's never too late if you save history."

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