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Making the Case for Saving a Historic School 

12-09-2015 17:35

A grassroots group has turned the tide in its fight to save a local school. The key: appealing to community values. When the town of Scottsbluff, Neb., put forth a bond initiative that included plans to demolish and replace the Bluffs Middle School (formerly high school), a group of citizens, including graduates of the school, sprung into action to defeat it. Acentral part of their campaign as an ad in the Scottsbluff Star-Herald newspaper, which spoke directly to voters with these points:

  • DO reject this bond issue and ask the school board for a proposal to save and preserve the Bluffs Middle School while making adaptations for current needs and get the best of both worlds.
  • DO you know that most school districts hire architects and professionals who know more about designing new building than renovating older ones and are unfamiliar with, or biased against, renovation options?
  • DO you know that renovating an existing building generally saves 20-25%of the cost of new construction as the building shell is retained?
  • DO consider how an increase in taxes will affect property values and appreciation as well as a decline in economic growth and building. Ask if this proposed bond issue is the right use of an increase in tax money.
  • DO ask the school board to save your taxes and keep the building.
  • DO teach our children to reduce, reuse, recycle. By maintaining and renovating our existing school building, we will protect the environment and save space in the landfill.
  • DO instill civic pride and tradition among students, teachers, and community members through renovating this building to include our community’s heritage and provide today’s technology.
  • DO ask for the preservation of one of Scottsbluff’s best architectural treasures by seeking the advice of an architectural firm that has experience in rehabilitating and improving technology in historic buildings.
  • DO look at the successful rehabilitations that other communities have experienced instilling pride in the community and in their students.
  • DO look at the deferred lack of maintenance and neglect the building has endured and realize it is not a reason to tear it down.
  • DO realize that graduates of Scottsbluff public schools have fond memories and identify with the building recognizing it as a place of community history which can instill the same sense of community pride for future generations.
  • DO propose a REVISED BOND initiative that will rehabilitate all Scottsbluff public school buildings.
  • DO ask yourself why this beautiful building has endured 86 years.
  • DO visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation website to see how hundreds of school buildings across the United States have been well renovated and well maintained to deliver 21st century education.
These ideas resonated with citizens; they rejected the bond proposal on May 15 by a vote of 2,072 to 1,230.

“In the weeks that have passed since, the school board members have openly questioned how they could have misread the voters’ support of their plan,” reports Dave Thiele, one of the organizers of Save Bluffs Middle School (Save BMS). That group continues to meet to discuss options and strategies, obtaining advice from the National Trust and the Nebraska Lied Main Street program.

On June 25 the Scottsbluff school board held a meeting to solicit citizens’ views on what changes and improvements they would like to see made to local schools. Two school board members attended a follow-up meeting of Save BMS, and “we exchanged a great deal of positive communication,” Thiele says. The school board will form a planning committee in the fall, and Save BMS expects to participate.

Whatever happens next, there is already a positive outcome: a new sense of collaboration between the school board and local citizens in planning for the future of local schools.

A portion of the ad created by Jason Frank and Pat Power.

Publication Date: September/October 2007

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Author(s):Kerri Rubman