Monday, September 15, 2014

Raw Deal for New Deal-Era School?

South Loudoun Citizens Group Asks Supervisors To Save Historic Arcola School  

Dedicated in 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Arcola School is threatened with destruction. The Arcola School, one of Loudoun County’s few projects under Roosevelt’s New Deal Public Works Administration initiative, may face the wrecking ball if Loudoun County Supervisors decide it is not worth saving. 

“This brick building represents a time when our nation experienced unprecedented social change,” said Jane Covington, member of Friends of the Arcola Community Center.  Covington added, “If Roosevelt were alive today, he would surely be dismayed that Loudoun County is considering selling the site without consideration of the historic building.”  

The building housed an active school until 1972.  It then became a community center from 1977 until early 2006.  Many citizens in South Loudoun County, as well as The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Preservation Virginia and state delegates Randy Minchew and Scott Surovell urge an adaptive reuse for the historic Arcola School, whose appeal is not only its historic value but also because it is needed by the community residents. 

The village of Arcola has been the center of major residential development.  Currently, there are four developments in the immediate area totaling 12,000 residential units.  Citizens have been circulating a petition in these communities asking for a community center.  Denise Kloeppel, an adjacent resident, said, “There is no community facility for clubs, HOA meetings, picnics, after school activities, dances, social events, and the diverse needs of a growing community.  [The] petition was started to show support for a community center.”

The Board of Supervisor's Finance, Government Services & Operations Committee met on September 9th to discuss the fate of the Arcola School.  Chairman Ralph Buona stated: “My elementary school is gone, my middle school is gone, and my high school is gone.  Fact is times change and we have to move on and build new.”

The Friends of the Arcola Community Center group challenges county estimates for rehabilitation.  Between 2003 and 2014, the County's cost estimate for renovation has increased over six times, from $1.9 M to $12.9 M.  The Friends group requests that the County allocate $25,000 paid from Arcola Center proffer for the purpose of hiring an independent consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the adaptive reuse of the building.  The study would provide guidance on future capital facility needs and a strategic estimate for rehabilitation including public/private partnerships, grants and rehabilitation tax credits. 

Laura Tekrony, Founder of the Friends of the Arcola Community Center, said at the very least the building should be preserved.  She questions why the county spent time and money having the building listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places just to have it demolished.  Tekrony supports a public/private partnership that would work with the Friends Group and County to rehabilitate historic school for the community.  The Friends group was started in 2007 to renovate and reopen the historic building to the public.

For more information, contact the author of this guest blog post:

Laura Tekrony
Founder, Friends of the Arcola Community Center

On May 22, 2014, Preservation Virginia, Friends of the Arcola Community Center, the VA Dept. of Historic Resources, Delegates Minchew and Surovell, and other community members met at Arcola School to announce its place on Preservation Virginia's 2014 Most Endangered Sites list.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Longwood University and the Demolition of the Historic Cunningham Residence Halls

Longwood University has a rich history. The college, first known as the Farmville Female Seminary Association, was established in 1839 and is the third oldest public institution of higher learning in Virginia. It is also the first state institution of higher learning for women in Virginia. Longwood has always cared about its history and traditions and has shown good stewardship of its historic buildings.

That is why I was surprised to find out that Longwood University’s Master Plan called for the  demolition of the Cunningham Residence Halls in order to build a new student union. The Cunninghams have been a central part of Longwood for over 80 years and many students, faculty, and alumni clearly do not want them demolished.  College campuses are home to many of our oldest buildings, and these historic buildings contribute tremendously to their character. 
Cunningham Residence Hall

Below are two very articulate quotes on this subject from Gale and Associates, an Engineering and Planning Firm from Herndon.

“It’s the historic buildings that dominate marketing materials and draw students to campus. They convey an image of a solid, lasting institution appealing to both the students and the parents paying tuition. These iconic historic buildings are often what alumni think of as they remember the campus.“


“While it may seem that older buildings require more work compared to newer buildings, the reality is that these buildings were constructed to last and now having aged a century or more, are in need of maintenance. Buildings much younger (post‐War to present), on the other hand, are exhibiting premature failure due to inferior design, materials, and workmanship and may require as much, if not more work, than historic buildings. As universities consider new construction projects, they need to ask themselves, will the proposed assemblies and construction details last 100 years or more?" Link

Why Demolition?
Longwood’s Master Plan is somewhat perplexing because while it calls for the proposed demolition of an important historic building on campus, it also establishes several guiding principles for itself including: “keeping Longwood ‘like Longwood’; architectural compatibility; a compact, convenient campus; on-campus student life; gathering spaces; making the campus more pedestrian friendly; preserving, enhancing, and expanding campus green space and lastly, including sustainability.”

Demolishing the Cunningham Residence Halls does not fit into several of these guiding principles especially “keeping Longwood like Longwood.” It also doesn't fit with  the “sustainability” guideline. One of the most often undervalued methods of achieving overall resource efficiency is to adaptively reuse our older buildings. Unlike demolition, reuse does not produce the tons of wasted building materials that end up in landfills each year.

A new student union seems to be needed, but why demolish a historic building (and incur the costs) to do so? Why not build it somewhere else?  The reason given to demolish the Cunninghams in the Master Plan is, “The cost of retaining and renovating these buildings was judged to be excessive, and the choice was made to explore other uses for the site.”  However; I saw no financial analysis of demolition verses reuse in the Master Plan, so how do we know if the cost of renovation will be excessive?  

Architectural drawing of new student union

2011 Endangered Sites Listing
Preservation Virginia has invested a great deal of time and effort into encouraging the reuse of historic college and university buildings.  In 2011, after receiving several nominations that highlighted threats to historic structures on college campuses, Preservation Virginia listed “Historic Structures on Virginia’s College and University Campuses” to our annual Most Endangered Sites list.  

In 2006, five years before the Endangered Sites listing, Preservation Virginia supported legislation calling on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to provide a tool for recognizing and assessing the critical needs of state owned historic buildings including those on colleges and universities.  Because of this legislation, public colleges and universities now have additional information to help them meet stewardship goals for historic buildings while maintaining their functionality.

Examples exist in Virginia and elsewhere of successfully renovating and reusing historic campus  buildings. Also see.

Some Quotes
Some quotes I have read by students and teachers include: “The Cunninghams are a part of Longwood history that should not be forgotten. Longwood students have a connection to their residence halls that is hard to explain, and the connection to the Cunninghams is apparent when you talk to alumni, and you hear the genuine love of their ‘home’ when they tell stories about the fun they shared with friends. So, yes, it is sad to see them go.”   

“I have an emotional attachment to this building. It was the first building that I lived in as a freshman, and now I’m an RA for the same hall that I was a freshman on. This building pretty much houses the majority of my college career” 

“It’s upsetting to know that we have to say farewell to the Cunninghams, but again, I understand why they can’t remodel them. But overall I will be sad that I am losing one of the most important and integral parts of my college career.”

“I’m going to miss the Cunninghams, but I understand the reasons they have to tear it down.”

I have a feeling that the “reasons they have to tear it down” have not been fully vetted, at least not by the students and alumni who seem to genuinely care about their former dormitory.