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School Board and Preservationists as Partners 

12-09-2015 17:35

Fort Worth is home to some of the finest historic public school buildings in all of Texas. The more than 100 elementary, middle school, and high school buildings span the historic architectural spectrum from Victorian to post-World War II structures. These buildings also serve to identify, and anchor, their neighborhoods. In 1999, responding to a growing student population, the Fort Worth Independent School District began an effort to gain voter support for a $400 million bond issue. The money would be used to renovate and make additions to historic inner-city school buildings and also to construct several new schools. The school district sought major organizations` endorsement of its bond package.

Historic Fort Worth, Inc., decided that it was important to contact the school district at this point and get involved, particularly since the district had made inappropriate repairs to its historic school buildings in the past, mostly regarding replacement windows. HFW had communicated its concerns to school district members before, and this laid the groundwork for the ongoing educational process that has followed. A HFW board member invited the school board president, a personal friend, to meet with HFW`s Public Policy Committee.

At a two-hour meeting which covered all aspects of the proposed school bond issue, the committee took on the challenge of influencing the bond issue and the school projects it would fund. That meeting resulted in several critical agreements: The school district promised to let HFW review all bond-funded historic school renovation projects to ensure appropriateness of the renovation work on existing buildings as well as appropriateness of design, scale, and materials new for additions. Additionally, HFW`s Public Policy Committee would review designs for new school buildings to be built in historic neighborhoods to ensure their compatibility with the area. Finally, HFW secured the right to review any bond-funded school building project that might require the demolition of historic houses in inner-city neighborhoods. In return for these levels of review, HFW agreed to endorse the Fort Worth bond package.

The school district announced the endorsements of HFW and other groups in its advertising. Voters approved the school bond package in February 1999. Since then HFW has been engaged on a regular basis in historic school renovation plan review with representatives of the school district and the management team hired to oversee more than 26 bond-funded projects. Both HFW`s Public Policy and Historic Properties Committees (which include preservation architects) have also met with architects selected for various school renovation projects to review plans and make suggestions. HFW urges the school district to use the Secretary of the Interior`s standards in its all bond-funded school renovation projects. The process has been important since so few of the schools have local landmark protection or design review.

Developing a good working relationship with the school district has not been difficult, but it has required consistency and patience. HFW must continually educate school district employees about preservation concerns. HFW also must keep abreast of all ongoing projects and remind the school district whenever it is time for the organization to review and advise on those projects. HFW is educating the school board and building the relationship in other ways as well. HFW presented a slide-show on historic school buildings at a citywide neighborhood revitalization conference.

The organization also makes its historic resource survey information on school buildings avail-able to the school district`s staff. HFW is now encouraging the district to seek local landmark and National Register designations for as many of its school buildings as possible. By proactively engaging in the bond issue projects, Historic Fort Worth has played an important role in ensuring the architectural integrity of these fine public buildings. Fort Worth`s historic schools are now set to serve students and bring stability to their neighborhoods for years to come.

Publication Date: January/February 2001

#historicschools #ForumNews

Author(s):Libby Willis

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