Monday, December 17, 2007

Best Use For Old Schools

I read with interest Olympia Meola’s lead story in the TD today, “Old School Buildings Go Unused.” I then turned to the Metro section and read Michael Paul Williams column on the fate of old school buildings. Well, it’s the dark time of the year and this maven’s mind is in hibernation mode. But it doesn’t take the fully functioning mind of a maven to figure out what to do with buildings that are no longer needed as schools.

Before I moved to River City, I lived in the far north of the Commonwealth. I even crossed the border on a regular basis into the Columbia District. I often saw old school buildings being used by school systems for other purposes. In the District, old buildings house school system administrative offices. I’ve seen the same in Fairfax County.

Now, I know that the Columbia District was the capital of Mr. Lincoln’s evil Union. I also know that Fairfax County was occupied by union troops during most of the War of Northern Aggression. So it is proper to suspect that those parts might be tinged by Yankee thinking. However, even the Yankees might have some ideas worth considering in the Old Dominion.

If my Swiss-Cheese brain serves me, I remember a time, not too long ago, when our fair city’s chief executive officer sent his minions on a guerrilla raid to cleanse City Hall of the administrative offices of Richmond Public Schools. His Excellency indicated that he had better uses for his precious City Hall than administering schools for our children. Then there was this nasty court battle and Mr. Wilder was told he had to let the schoolies stay. Now, as I said, I’m not thinking too well now, but wouldn’t it satisfy the needs of Mayor Doug and RPS to use unneeded school buildings to house the administrative offices of RPS?

Just this morning, I drove past the building that formerly housed Patrick Henry School and was used last year as shelter from the storm for students of A.V. Norell School. It is a beautiful building, and since it was used as a school as recently as last spring it has not traveled far down the road to dilapidation that Ms. Meola indicates the building and site of Whitcomb Court School have. Patrick Henry is located at the intersection of Forest Hill and Semmes avenues and is thus only about ten minutes from City Hall. It would make a fine home for those pesky RPS officials that Mayor Doug wants out of City Hall.

What would it cost to renovate Patrick Henry for office use? I don’t know, but I’m sure that city officials could find out rather quickly. If the cost is prohibitive, I’m sure that the city could enter into a sale-rent-purchase agreement with a private developer. Under such an agreement, title to the building would be transferred to the private developer. The developer would renovate the building and then lease it to RPS for a period of twenty or twenty-five years during which time the developer would recover its investment and a reasonable profit. At the end of the lease period title would revert back to the city and RPS would continue to use it.

Ms. Meola indicates in her article that city officials are considering other possible uses for vacant school buildings. However, since these building were built to serve the educational needs of our students, using them for the administrative needs of RPS makes the most sense.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Bravo Maven.

For so long it has baffled me as to why any building could remain unused. This reminds me of (and I wish I had more names and dates here) a particular time in the early '90s. The Virginia Lottery Department wanted to build themselves a shiny new office in downtown Richmond. The effort was blocked, partly due to one legislator's brilliant, pragmatic thinking (once again, I have no names).
The gist of the argument against building went something like this: How could anyone think of putting up a new building when there were so many unused ones lining the Broad Street corridor on the west side of downtown? The Lotto Dept. never took this advice, but also did not get their new office.
The same logic applies here. And within that logic is the kind of progressive idealism that is sorely needed within Richmond's government.

Charles A. McCauley