WHY JOHNNY CAN'T WALK TO SCHOOL
National Trust Identifies Serious Threats to Historic Neighborhood
Calls for Major Public Policy Changes in New National Report
Ask any grandmother today about her childhood, and she will most likely
you she walked to school. She will describe the school as a wonderful
building in the heart of town. She will tell you that classes were small
teachers knew students by name.
Today, fewer than one in eight students walks or bikes to school. The
landmark schools that touched the lives of millions and became stalwart
symbols of civic pride are fast disappearing. They are giving way to
warehouse-like schools in remote areas reachable only by stressful
through congested traffic. And along with their demise has gone yet
of the ties that once bound people and towns across America.
In a new report released this morning, during National Education Week,
"Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl: Why Johnny Can't
to School," the National Trust for Historic Preservation contends that
public policies, including excessive acreage requirements, funding
and planning code exemptions, are promoting the spread of mega-school
on outlying, undeveloped land at the expense of small, walkable,
community-centered schools in older neighborhoods. The National Trust, a
private nonprofit preservation organization that works to save diverse
historic places and revitalize communities, calls on school
and public officials to establish policies that will preserve and
historic neighborhood schools. Among its recommendations, the National
suggests eliminating arbitrary acreage standards, funding biases, and
certain zoning exemptions that undermine the public's ability to
older and historic schools as centers of community life and learning.
"Schools historically have been at the heart of American communities,"
National Trust President Richard Moe. "When the school anchors a
neighborhood, both the students and residents benefit. The trend of
shopping mall-sized schools outside town alienates students, encourages
sprawl and impairs our sense of community. We can serve our students
by revitalizing our historic neighborhood schools. It's responsible,
thoughtful and fiscally sound."
According to the National Trust report, which was funded by the National
Center for Preservation Technology and Training, certain public policies
undermining the preservation of historic neighborhood schools. Many
education departments either mandate or recommend huge school site sizes
that smaller schools in established neighborhoods cannot meet, putting
pressure on communities to abandon existing schools, build large
outside town, and promote sprawl. State funding policies often fail to
provide incentives to maintain schools properly, leading to problems
deferred maintenance. Building codes biased toward new construction are
applied to older schools that could otherwise be upgraded to meet
In many states, school districts are exempt from zoning and planning
meaning they are free to build mega-schools in outlying areas. Real
developers or property owners can influence local policy by donating
school districts, thereby improving the value of new subdivisions and
altering a community's growth patterns.
To save and renovate historic neighborhood schools, the National Trust
for the elimination of arbitrary acreage standards and policy or funding
biases that favor new construction over renovation and good stewardship.
advocates the completion of cost comparisons before new schools are
existing ones abandoned. Local planning and zoning exemptions for school
districts should be re-examined, it contends, and incentives established
that encourage routine school building maintenance. "Smart codes"
legislation should be adopted to encourage school renovations while
student safety. School administrators and policy makers should work to
ensure the majority of students can walk or bike to school, and
and training in school renovation techniques and options should be
to school facilities managers and others.
In making the recommendations, the National Trust called attention to a
states that have adopted policies to protect older and historic schools.
Maryland promotes reinvestment in existing schools and does not apply
arbitrary acreage standards that discriminate against older
Maine encourages better coordination between general community planning
school facility planning. New Jersey has adopted a Rehabilitation Code
makes it less costly to renovate older schools. And Washington State
discourages the deferred maintenance and neglect of existing school
"In fighting to save an older school, Two Rivers, Wisconsin residents
an important question: If an older building is equated with a poor
education, why would anyone want to send a child to an Ivy League
to Oxford or Cambridge universities," said Constance Beaumont, report
and director of State and Local Policy for the National Trust. "It would
absurd to argue that every old and historic school can or even should be
saved. But it is equally absurd to argue that a school's age
automatically means it
cannot be preserved or adapted to meet modern educational program
June 2000, the National Trust named historic neighborhood schools to its
list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. In listing
schools, the preservation organization was responding to requests for
assistance from grassroots advocacy groups throughout the country.
The report is part of a broadly based effort by the Trust to increase
awareness and support for the need to save older and historic
schools. The effort includes a new National Trust publication, "A
Guide to Saving Older Schools;" an appraisal guide for older school
renovations; and successful case studies. The overall effort is being
Peter Brink, senior vice president of programs, and Robert Nieweg,
Field Office director.
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