America is full of bi-polar people, by which I mean people who approach every issue as a pro or con choice between two–and only two–alternatives. In real life, of course, most choices are not so limited. Here in Indianapolis, the flap over School #54 is a perfect example.
America is full of bi-polar people, by which I mean people who approach every issue as a pro or con choice between two—and only two—alternatives. In real life, of course, most choices are not so limited. Here in Indianapolis, the flap over School #54 is a perfect example.
A bit of background is in order: the Indianapolis Public Schools has embarked upon a badly needed building program to upgrade its facilities. Many of the schools targeted for renovation and/or replacement are seriously deficient, with the result that the children who most need good educations are being taught in environments that are less than conducive to teaching. One such structure is School #54, located in the NESCO neighborhood on east Tenth Street. The IPS Facilities Task Force recommended that the school be torn down and replaced. Doing so would require the acquisition of the church next door, because the current site is far too small for the sorts of ancillary activities that educational facilities now require: loading and unloading buses, playgrounds and the like.
When the recommendation of demolition was made public, there were howls from all sides. Neighborhood activists who supported programming at the Church opposed moving it to make way for a school. Representatives of Historic Landmarks—who had been part of the Facilities Committee—wanted to save the structure, and proposed a plan that would accomplish that. Unfortunately, their plan “succeeded” by leaving out five classrooms, bus loading areas, and other facilities that IPS desperately needs.
So here the parties sit—glaring at each other. Officials of IPS (honesty compels me to disclose that one of them is my stepdaughter, and she will not like this column) backed off the acquisition of the Church, and feel that by so doing they have compromised enough. Officials of Landmarks continue to push for their bogus “solution.” And little yellow signs are sprouting around the neighborhood with the legend “Save our School.” Everyone is mad. Meanwhile, even if the building comes down, IPS now has too little property to build the school the neighborhood needs. It is a bi-polar standoff.
Allow me to suggest that there are ways to achieve IPS goals, which are entirely reasonable, and still allow Landmarks to save the structure.
Some years ago, School 49 was moved two and half blocks from its Morris Street location, and into Rhodius Park. The Indianapolis Parks Department gave IPS the land in exchange for IPS including areas in the building that would be open for park use. The school got outdoor space that was unavailable at its original location, and the Park Department got facilities it didn’t have to pay for. The partnership has been so successful, the building is currently being expanded to add more park uses.
Brookside Park has land three blocks from where School #54 now sits. It would make great sense for IPS to partner with the Parks Department in the same manner that it did for School 49. There is ample acreage—the Park would not be compromised by donating some of it for the school. IPS would need less land than it would in its current location, because the Park would provide the play areas. Such an arrangement would seem to give everyone what they want.
That doesn’t mean that all problems would be solved. If the building is no longer used as a school, finding an economically viable use for it will be a challenge. The last thing the 10th Street corridor needs is another boarded building. (Not to be negative here, but the Church that IPS agreed to “save” isn’t exactly an asset to the built environment either. But at least it is occupied.) If Landmarks is so hot about saving the structure, it needs to put its money where its (very large) mouth has been, and underwrite an appropriate adaptive reuse. If it does so, however, everyone would walk away with their needs met.
I think that is what Tony Blair has called “the third way.”