Thursday, June 05, 2008

School Placement

I’m inclined to go along with Fletcher Farrar’s call to keep any “new” Springfield High School campus right where it is.
Here’s a better idea. Build a $57 million new high school on the site of Springfield High School. Keep the wonderful old 1917 Beaux Arts façade, with its monumental approach at the end of Adams Street. Keep the classic auditorium, the new multipurpose room, and the relatively new science labs. Keep all that is good and serviceable. Keep the history and traditions and the Susan Wilcox legacy of excellence.

But pump some new money into the old campus - it’s hardly landlocked. There is vacant land at the corner of Walnut and Monroe just begging for a school building. To the east, across Lewis Street, there’s land for sale. Acres of parking lots between SHS and the Capitol need a better use. To the north are boarded-up houses, waiting for what’s next. Anything that can be built out west can be built here better, without disrupting surrounding neighborhoods.

In fact, the new Springfield High School, on its existing campus, would help preserve and enhance the core of the city. Just two blocks away, the Capitol complex is itself the subject of a new planning effort, and the Vinegar Hill residential neighborhood is busy reinventing itself. By planning together, the three entities could link themselves with parks, walkways, and new investment that would reawaken the bland and forgotten area west of the Capitol.
Admittedly, I’m armed with few facts but right from the start I questioned the proposal that would move the high school to the far west side of the city. I guess I just don’t see the advantages.

I think the community’s inclination on the matter is going to come down to the bottom line. Is it cheaper to build at its current location, or on a new site somewhere else? Transportation should be considered in that cost and I think that’s where Farrar is coming from, at least partially. How energy efficient is it to have a campus so far removed from where the students live? Of course, that also leads me to ask if a west side site might, on average, actually be closer to where Springfield High students live. Considering that the west side campus would have its back up against the Pleasant Plains and New Berlin districts, that seems unlikely to me.

As a symbol of the city’s commitment to itself, keeping the current campus location is probably a good idea. The days of abandoning city centers for the hinterland is over and the best use of land might be to keep Springfield High right where it is. Another land use consideration would be what would become of the abandoned property if SHS left. Would it make room for other development associated with the downtown (state offices?) or would it just be paved over for more parking lots?

Again, I’m pretty much fact-free on this issue right now but these are things that need to be considered.

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