Wednesday, January 09, 2002

This old school

Not just a building, a landmark

        Today is D-Day for Cincinnati Public Schools.

        The district issues its report card on its buildings this morning. The long-awaited facilities master plan recommends what to do with Cincinnati Public's school buildings, the aging structures where the city's future gets an education.

        Along with calling for new schools, the report's many options could recommend that dozens of schools be closed. Another dozen or so could be destined for remodeling. Candidates for renovation and closing will come from the district's 76 schools.

        Sixty-one of those 76 buildings are already on the state's hit list of schools needing too many repairs to be saved. The list includes two architectural treasures, the fortress-like Hyde Park School and my old alma mater with the Colonial stylings and the words “Cheviot Public School” carved in limestone above its columned entrance.

        After the report is released, Cincinnati Public's Board of Education will hold forums to hear from the public before seeing how closely their assessments agree with the state's findings.

        No doubt, the report's recommendations will be hotly debated. They come with a $900 million price tag for renovations and new construction.

        Here's hoping all sides keep one thing in mind: These old schools are more than just vintage buildings. They are landmarks. Their size and their history, their location and their mission define a community.

        “Old schools are the center of a neighborhood in many ways,” said Chicago-based architect Uriel Schlair. He was the lead architect on Chicago's recent public school renovations project which saw nearly 200 schools renovated and saved from the wrecking ball.

        “Upgrading these old buildings is less expensive than building new schools,” he added.

        “And, it energizes the homes and businesses around them. It also improves the standing of the principal and the teachers in the eyes of the community's young families.”

Spare the schools

        There is no debating Cincinnati's public school buildings are in bad shape. Roofs leak. Paint's peeling. Plaster is crumbling. Outdated electrical systems struggle to power 21st-century computers.

        There is also no debating that Cincinnati's public schools fell apart because people — past city officials, school board members, administrators, principals, teachers, students, parents and voters who sunk school tax levys — didn't care.

        Thankfully, the caring is coming back. Now it's time for the school district to get its houses of education in order.

Society's beacons

        As they decide which schools to save, the members of Cincinnati Public's Board of Education should note each building's importance to its neighborhood.

        These old schools are more than bricks and mortar with windows and roofs. They are symbols, grand gateways to the glories of learning.

        They occupy prominent places in the fortunes of the people who live nearby. For generations, they have stood strong and tall, acting as solid constants in an uncertain world.

        Above all, these old schools create a sense of community. They welcome everyone, young and old alike, and make them feel like they belong.


        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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