Minneapolis School Board members on December 1, 2011 approved a $18 million capital improvement plan that will alleviate overcrowding caused by an increase in student enrollment.
Howe School, in the Longfellow neighborhood, will be reopened for the 2013 school year as part of this plan. Howe, which has been closed since 2005, was included in the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s (PAM) 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list earlier this year. PAM applauds the school district’s decision to reopen Howe, as it preserves a significant historic resource, reuses existing infrastructure, promotes living in the center city, and encourages the development of healthy habits such as walking to school.
Minneapolis Public Schools closed Howe in 2005. The district marketed the building to be reused for residential, commercial, medical, or other educational purposes, but was unwilling to sell Howe for reuse as a charter school, despite a high level of interest by sponsoring organizations.
With no suitable buyers the district considered demolishing the building and converting the site to athletic fields for a nearby junior high school. For many properties this would have been the end of the story, but the dedicated advocacy efforts of concerned community members helped turn the tide and bring about a much more positive solution.
Over the past several years, many members of the Howe and Longfellow communities have attended public meetings, undertaken a reuse study, petitioned the Minneapolis school board to protect the school and, as the proposal to reopen Howe gained momentum, held a “Howe-loween” rally and parade on October 30, 2011. The reopening of Howe is indicative of a growing trend in local student enrollment.
The student population of Minneapolis Public Schools has increased for the first time in a decade, and district leaders expect that this trend will continue. According to news reports, families had been leaving the Minneapolis Public Schools system for years, drawn to suburban or charter schools.
Opposite trends have been observed elsewhere across the country and in greater Minnesota, where school district consolidation often results in the closure of two or more older community schools. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, neighborhood schools face an uphill battle as many are being threatened with abandonment and new schools continue to be built far from the residents they serve.
“Community-centered schools have a vital role to play in this country – not only do they help us reach our educational goals, but they also help ensure a healthier community.” said Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust.
• Renovation of schools creates more jobs than new construction. For every $1 million spent in a construction project, five more jobs are created in the rehabilitation of an existing building compared to new construction. According to researcher Donovan Rykpema, rehabilitation generally uses almost 20% more labor. Because the labor required to renovate schools is local, dollars stay in local economies, creating a more powerful economic stimulus.
• Centrally-located schools are used 24/7 by nearby residents. Residents walk around the track while children play on the playgrounds. Community groups use the school for after-school programs and events. In some instances, schools co-locate with other entities such as YMCA, libraries, and parks which allow the facilities to be used around the clock.
• Older schools can provide a 21st century education. Creative architects can find ways to incorporate modern teaching technology into older schools or provide additional services in modern additions while reusing the existing facility.
• Older schools can be remarkably energy efficient. Older schools usually offer many “green” features such as a central location, quality of construction, and use of passive heating and cooling systems.
Additionally, older schools tend to be located near the residents they serve. This means:
• More chances for physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overweight children in America has tripled in the past thirty years. In their 2003 survey, parents ranked “distance” as the number one factor of why their children did not bike or walk to school.
• Improved air quality. Fewer automobiles and buses on the road mean less vehicle miles traveled and therefore fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
• Lower transportation costs. When students attend community-centered schools, states and school districts can save money by busing fewer students to and from school.
Heightened awareness of Howe School, brought about by PAM’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list and the dedicated efforts of the local neighbors and advocates, has helped reclaim a community asset for the benefit of Minneapolis tax payers and citizens.
Howe School, built in 1927, was once the center of community life in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. The 30,000 sq. ft., two‐story building was designed by the Minneapolis Board of Education’s Bureau of Buildings, during a two-decade boom of student enrollment in the city.
The school design incorporated natural light, ventilation, steam heating, modern sanitation systems, and fireproof construction, as well as public meeting rooms, which helped foster a strong bond between the school and its community. Howe’s Collegiate Gothic style featured decorative entrances with curved jambs, pointed arches, and transoms trimmed with cast stone, contrasting with the red brick exterior. Original drinking fountain niches, built‐in cabinets, arched corridor ceilings, oak doors, and plaster moldings still remain inside the building.
The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM) is the statewide, private, nonprofit organization advocating for the preservation of Minnesota’s historic resources. PAM was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1981 by Minnesota citizens concerned about the future of the state’s architectural and cultural landmarks. Since then, PAM has grown into a network representing thousands of voices across the state. Beyond our membership, PAM collaborates and partners with other organizations and agencies from the national to the local level. www.mnpreservation.org