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New Tools Advance the Historic Neighborhood Schools Initiative 

12-09-2015 17:35

The National Trust launched its Historic Neighborhood Schools Initiative in 2000, after receiving dozens of calls from communities seeking help in preserving their neighborhood schools. This caused historic neighborhood schools to be placed on the Trust’s list of the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

While preparing a number of tools to aid preservationists in their efforts to influence local school facility planning (, the Trust published Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School: Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl. It analyzed the reasons why older and historic schools across the country were being closed and demolished at an alarming rate, and identified the fundamental causes: a deep seated prejudice against older schools, and state policies that encourage consolidation and new construction over maintenance and renovation.

That publication proved to be an alarm bell for this issue and attracted a variety of other partners to the cause from school reform advocates to smart growth organizations. This larger coalition, including the 21st Century School Fund, the National Park Service (NPS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Smart Growth America, along with others, approached the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International. CEFPI, the professional association of school planners, had published in the early 1970s guidelines for school facilities that were most unfriendly to preservation and community values today. Because those guidelines had also been adopted by many state departments of education, they had been codified as the norms of school construction within the educational community.

Recognizing that its published guidelines were out of date, in 2002 CEFPI agreed to reconsider its recommendations and embarked on a wholesale redrafting of its publications. The following can now be ordered or will soon be available from

  • Creating Connections: The Council of Educational Facility Planners Guide for Educational Facility Planning replaces its old Guide for Planning Educational Facilities and significantly expands recommendations for community input and participatory planning. Tellingly, it drops any specific recommendations on school site acreage.
  • A new Appraisal Guide for Older and Historic Schools is an alternative to another CEFPI appraisal tool for existing schools that tends to leave all older schools looking worthless. This new document provides a framework for a far more objective review of the value of existing schools.
  • Schools for Successful Communities: An Element of Smart Growth, funded by the EPA, summarizes new recommendations on using smart growth planning principles to build schools that fit into and serve their communities, both new and old. Several case studies demonstrate these new ideas. (Note: Ordering information lists the book by its subtitle.)
  • A Primer for the Renovation/ Rehabilitation of Older and Historic Schools serves as a guide for school administrators unfamiliar with renovation as a viable option. It helps significantly to level the playing field. It will also be a powerful tool to help preservation advocates make their case for renovation rather than replacement by dispelling the myths that old schools can no longer serve contemporary education. Again, case studies make it real.

In a parallel effort working with a coalition called Building Educational Success Together (BEST), which is led by the 21st Century School Fund and funded by the Ford Foundation the National Trust surveyed state school policies nationwide. It then developed model school policies designed to assure: adequate planning that involves all aspects of the community including consideration of historic preservation interests; schools that serve as the centers of their communities; adequate maintenance and management of existing schools as community assets; and sufficient and even-handed funding for the renovation of existing schools and the construction of new schools when needed.

School Facility Policies presents these recommended models to help state and local educational agencies review and redraft their own policies. It will be available in May on and

Together these publications represent a major paradigm shift in the attitude behind policies that have guided the destruction of older and historic schools for three decades. They are valuable tools to reestablish the traditional relationship between school and community and preserve an important educational architectural heritage, but only if local advocates encourage their state departments of education, local school boards, and school facilities planners to acquire and use them.

Publication Date: May/June 2005

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Author(s):Royce A. Yeater