By Tiffany Lankes
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The School Board voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to tear down a historic building at Riverview High School, ending a two-year-long effort by local activists to save it.
The split vote -- 3 to 2 -- came after an hour of emotional comments from two dozen teachers, parents, community members and architects, forcing the board to weigh the value of preserving the building against the need for more parking and ballfields at the high school.
It was a rare standing-room-only School Board meeting, with the crowd split.
Teachers and students wore Riverview colors and said a plan to convert the old building into a music complex would further cramp an already tight campus. They also expressed concerns that the complex would jeopardize security by allowing more people on campus.
Those who wanted to save the building, designed by famed architect Paul Rudolph, wore green stickers and argued that it is too precious to tear down. Converting it into a music complex could attract top talent to the community and become a resource for students, they said.
In the end, board members said the decision hung on whether the group trying to save the building could come up with enough money for the project.
Despite giving the group three extra months to come up with a financial plan, board members said they were not convinced the money could be raised. They were afraid the district would get stuck with the old and deteriorated building.
"The time to show me the money was today," said board member Shirley Brown. "I'm sorry."
The decision came as a harsh blow to local architects and activists who have been trying for two years to persuade the district to spare the building.
"It's very unfortunate for the children and the culture and the fabric of Sarasota," said Don Blivas, who addressed the board.
Rudolph designed the original school, which opened in 1958 and is considered a prime example of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Other buildings were added on later, as the school grew.
The debate started two years ago when the district announced its intention to demolish the original building as it rebuilds Riverview on its 40-acre campus, the smallest in the county. The school has been falling apart for years and has persistent mold problems.
The district's plan calls for demolishing the original building and paving the site with a parking lot. The new school is scheduled to open in August 2009.
In March 2007, the School Board agreed to put the demolition plans on hold, giving the committee trying to save the building a year to come up with a feasible alternative.
After holding an international contest, the group selected architect Diane Lewis' plan for the Riverview Music Quadrangle, a center that would give the community a venue for the arts and could also be used by the students.
Their plan raised concerns from school officials, teachers and parents. One of the biggest proved to be the cost of the project, which the team estimated to be between $15 and $25 million. So far, the group had gathered $100,000 in pledges, though members said they could not really raise money until the School Board agreed to save the building.
"I'm impressed with the design, but I also know we have to be practical," said board member Caroline Zucker. "We don't have any money to help them. I see a lot of talk, but I don't see how they're going to come up with the money."
Board members Carol Todd and Kathy Kleinlein voted to support letting the team move forward with the music complex.
Todd offered a motion that would have required the team to work with district staff and come up with a site plan both groups could be happy with.
But new Superintendent Lori White said her staff already tried working with the architects. She said if the board wanted to give them more time, it had to acknowledge the district will have to make some concessions.
"I have to know that you accept those compromises," White said.
After more discussion -- the meeting lasted four hours -- the board voted against another delay, drawing applause from the Riverview crowd.
RIVERVIEW TIME LINE
February 2006: School Board decides to tear down and rebuild Riverview High School, a plan that includes demolishing the original Paul Rudolph-designed buildings and paving the site as a parking lot. Local architects and preservations rally against the plan, forming a Save Riverview committee.
June 2006: School Board agrees to hear from preservationist group at a workshop to discuss the Riverview project.
October 2006: School officials reveal that the costs of rebuilding Riverview have risen to $135 million, making it the most expensive high school in the county's history.
December 2006: Preservationists ask county to investigate whether the district's plan violates a county rule that requires them to conduct a historical evaluation on the building before demolition.
January 2007: Local architects apply to get Riverview a designation as one of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2007." County attorney determines that the School Board must review demolition plans with county officials.
February 2007: School officials agree to allow the National Trust for Historic Preservation to study the viability of saving some of the original courtyard buildings, so long as it does not delay construction or increase costs.
March 2007: Committee presents a plan to save the Rudolph buildings, and replace the lost parking with a garage elsewhere on the site. The School Board agrees to give them one year to come up with the roughly $20 million to pay for the project.
May 2007: Riverview makes it on the list of most endangered historic sites in the state.
June 2007: The citizens group Save Riverview Committee merges with Sarasota Architectural Foundation, a nonprofit organization, to form the Riverview Committee. The new group decides to hold an international competition to find a partner with design ideas and funding.
November: A group of judges select a plan to convert the old Rudolph buildings into the Riverview Music Quadrangle.
March: One year deadline to come up with the money hits. Board agrees to give committee three more months to prove they can pay for project.