Can we spend 1% of the school district's budget for 20 years so that Schenley High School can house almost 20% of the district's high school students for the next 100 years?
I think that will be a blog poll question shortly.
Should the Pittsburgh Board of Education place a moratorium on all capital spending in connection with High School reform until the district has presented for public review and comment a plan for High School reform (including the configuration, projected capital costs, location and projected enrollment for each school)?
Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics
School of Architecture
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-3890
Phone : (412) 268-2350
Fax : (412) 268-6129
To the School Board Members, Foundation Leaders and City Council:
This is not a 74 million dollar question of whether to Save Schenley or not.
The question is “Should we spend over 60 million to move 1200 kids out of Schenley into ‘boutique’ schools in less safe neighborhoods and lesser buildings on the assumption that smaller 6-12 schools will improve academic performance?”
The question is “Should we give up one of our highest academically performing schools in the best location in town (for collaborative magnets on science, technology, health, and more) and move kids to lower performing schools, on an unproven assumption of yet another ‘silver bullet’ for improving academic performance?”
The question is “should we repair and upgrade a grand, crafted school building that has 50-100 years left, or should we repair and upgrade buildings with 20 years of life left, sinking our tax dollars into oblivion?”
Even if you have no children left in the Pittsburgh Schools, the answer to these questions will affect your economic future. Our future tax base is dependent on continuing to attract young families to live in the city, and every resident will tell you this is school dependent. Only three high schools give prospective residents confidence: Allderdice, CAPA and Schenley, and real estate values reflect this directly. The value of your own real estate, and the viability of our city, is dependent on the quality and proven success of our schools. Of course, there is significant room for academic improvement, but you want to start with the highest base you can find, a school that effectively merges diverse populations with shared success.
Then, there is the question about the true condition and costs of renovating Schenley. Though worn, Schenley is a perfectly adequate learning environment as is, in fact far superior to any of Schools under discussion since it is a truly ‘green’ school with daylight, natural ventilation, thermal mass, and highly crafted construction. While the cracking plaster that contains modest amounts of asbestos should be abated (taken out) or encapsulated (covered), monthly measurements have shown it is not a danger to students. Estimates vary from a few million to 10 million to remove and resurface all 300,000 square feet of Schenley. 5-10 million is all that must be spent to save Schenley, unless we want to restore the building to its full glory with the most up-to-date laboratories and amenities. This was done in rival Cleveland with State and Federal support, where John Jay High School was renovated into a breathtaking destination for three smaller magnet schools – a success story we should all see first hand.
To act in a professional manner, the school board and the superintendent must:
* Secure three binding bids from leading US firms to undertake asbestos abatement now, considering all choices. This task that must be undertaken even if the building is to be sold.
* Secure 1-3 binding bids for upgrading the schools that would be absorbing the 1200 Schenley students, if a move was really in the best interest of our kids, so full comparisons can be made.
* Complete a 5 and 10 year plan for School closings and re-assignments that reflect comprehensive assessments of the academic, space and location benefits of each school, and the range of student populations that can be anticipated (especially if school confidence is assured and fuel prices remain high).
* Demonstrate to the residents (and future residents) that merging middle and high school populations into one school building definitively improve educational outcomes and that the scheduling, space and advising challenges of housing 11 and 18 year olds together has been fully resolved.
These tasks must be accomplished before decisions are made by the School Board.
Given that there has been inadequate research on the value of boutique 6-12 schools to academic outcomes; Given that there has been inadequate planning to establish the ‘ultimate’ school portfolio for the next 10 years; Given that there has been inadequate planning to work through the chaos of merging middle and upper school schedules and spaces; Given that there has been inadequate cost estimating on any of the ‘domino’ schools in play; Given the extensive press on “we don’t have 74 million dollars to spend” - there is no way the Schenley question can be put on a public referendum and receive unbiased or informed votes.
Vivian Loftness, FAIA (Fellow of the American Institute of Architects)
Professor and 1994-2004 Head of the School of Architecture
Carnegie Mellon University
Board of Directors, US Green Building Council