Some thoughts from the National Trust blog about President Obama’s statement during his press conference last night. Here’s what he said that made me (and I think a lot of us who love old buildings) go “AAAAAK!”
“Education — yet another example. The suggestion is why should the federal government be involved in school construction. Well, I visited a school down in South Carolina that was built in the 1850s. Kids are still learning in that school, as best they can. When the railroad — it’s right next to a railroad, and when the train runs by, the whole building shakes and the teacher has to stop teaching for a while. The auditorium is completely broken down; they can’t use it. So why wouldn’t we want to build state-of-the-art schools with science labs that are teaching our kids the skills they need for the 21st century, that will enhance our economy and, by the way, right now will create jobs? “
As one of the people who commented to that blog said, this pulls the rug out from under all the people who have loved their old schools and saved them (often with expensive renovations to bring them up to speed for today’s students) to continue in use as schools. Very frustrating, and especially disturbing given that we’re about to have a trillion dollars, give or take, thrown at states and school districts with the expectation of almost instant results. If the philosophy is–from the beginning and from the very top–get rid of those old “broken down” buildings and replace them with this new shiny Dryvet thing with pretty labs so that kids can really learn (since, of course, no one can learn in a 19th century building), we’re way behind the eight-ball before we even get started. I wouldn’t be surprised if the National Historic Preservation Act gets shoved out of the way in the rush for the money.
Bottom line: If you love a historic school in your neighborhood or community, now is the time, before the money starts flowing, to talk to your principal, superintendent, school board, and other interested citizens and see what they’re planning. I guarantee you, the school board is already in planning mode for a piece of the federal pie. So, get involved and get others involved and talk about what a great building it is, and how it’s such an opportunity for the students to learn in such a rich architectural environment, and how great the building would look and function if money was spent on this and this and this to make the school better.
And since you’re in Mississippi, remember that there is such a thing as the Antiquities Law of Mississippi that gives the Dept. of Archives and History some say in what public agencies, such as school districts, do with their historic buildings. If your school isn’t already designated a “Mississippi Landmark”, you can request that MDAH consider it for designation. It’s not a sure bet, but it’s worth a try.