Now that clapping erasers has gone out of style, what to do with old school buildings?
Here in the ‘burbs, my neighborhood has several former school buildings (Fort Washington School) facing possible demolition. With their high ceilings, large windows, and wonderful interior spaces, they desperately need some creative and savvy developer to come along and fulfill an unmet need for the kind of vintage, loft-like housing that is so easy to find in the city but impossible to locate here in the land of the strip mall.
(A downsizing friend has recently relocated to the Lenthal School and I am green with envy. I also admire the Champlain School Apartments in Vermont, another great example of a school-to-home repurpose.)
Today’s NYT features a wonderful story on a section of Brooklyn whose school buildings provide a timeline of academic architecture. Two of the now unused school buildings are looking for new life. Don’t miss the wonderful comments section with insights from readers with personal connections to the historic Erasmus Hall Academy (1786) and the 1878 primary school.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently featured a profile of a former high school school that was transformed into a new library for the community. It’s a tremendous example of people with vision making something happen, despite the poor condition of the building and the apparent financial issues connected with the project. After he had walked past antiquated systems and crumbling concrete windowsills, Birrer asked him if such a project was possible. “I told her, ‘Absolutely,’” Montalbano recalls. “And I drove back to Denver asking myself, ‘Why did I say that?’ If you had seen the building that day, the shape it was in, knowing how little money they had—that was an insane thing to say.” Read more here.
Oh, and how could I forget this magnificent example of how to transform a school into a place you never want to leave (in fact, their ad copy says just that…also that this time it’s okay to fall asleep in school) — I give you the McMenamins’ abra-ca-dabra do-over of two old schools transformed into fun and funky, award-winning hotels: Kennedy School (1915) and St. Francis School (1936) in Oregon. Want to meet me for a pint in the lobby before we hit the movie theatre? (In the right sort of neighborhood, that’s the ideal use for the challenging auditorium/theatre spaces Nick mentions in his comment.)
From their website:
Since its 1915 opening, [the Kennedy Elementary School] has been a beloved fixture of its Northeast Portland neighborhood. McMenamins renovated the once-abandoned scholastic gem and turned it into Portland’s most unique hotel. Here you’ll find 35 comfy guestrooms fashioned from former classrooms (complete with original chalkboards and cloakrooms, private baths and telephones), a restaurant, multiple small bars, a movie theater, soaking pool, gift shop and a brewery (just wait until the principal hears about this!). Extensive original artwork and historical photographs cover the walls, ceilings, doorways and hallways.
FOOTNOTE: I recently noticed a search result landing here; the query was “what does clapping erasers mean?” Obviously, this is one of those lost traditions, the knowledge of which will vanish forever unless someone writes it down. An eraser was a device about the size of a scrub brush, made up of thick slices of felt. Classrooms had large chalkboards, usually green, sometimes black, upon which teachers would write out lessons for students to see using chalk. When the board was filled with writing, the teacher would use the eraser to wipe away the writing so s/he could continue to use the board for the lesson. The felt in the erasers would collect the chalk dust and lose their effectiveness over time. “Clapping erasers” meant taking two erasers outside and smacking them together to produce a cloud of dust and clean out the felt. This was a task generally assigned to a student.