County Commission seeks more involvement in historic preservation

A rendering provided by the Harvard Jolly architecture firm shows how Building 4 at Sarasota High would look with the addition of exterior glass, a proposal nixed by a two-day charrette. Image courtesy Sarasota School Board

Saying they should be more involved in efforts to preserve historic buildings, the Sarasota County commissioners June 13 asked County Administrator Randall Reid to schedule a thorough workshop with them on the county’s Comprehensive Plan, including policy guidelines for such initiatives.

The request evolved out of a discussion regarding the Sarasota County School Board’s plans to rebuild Sarasota High School. Commissioner Joe Barbetta said members of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation had asked him where the commission stood on that project.

During their May 15 work session, School Board members had acknowledged concerns of area architects regarding plans for Building 4 and the west gymnasium on the SHS campus, as both were designed by Paul Rudolph, one of the principal members of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

“I would … say before we go up in opposition to … the School Board, [a policy decision] would have to have the support of the majority of the [County] Commission,” Commissioner Nora Patterson said.

The workshop on the Comprehensive Plan would cover such scenarios, Chairwoman Christine Robinson told her.

During the commission’s June 13 budget workshop, Barbetta pointed out that representatives of the School Board had held a two-day charrette the previous week with community residents as well as students, teachers and parents, to discuss how the proposed SHS renovations should be handled.

Barbetta said he was most concerned about preserving the Rudolph architecture at Sarasota High, especially in light of the School Board decision several years ago to demolish the original structure at Riverview High School in Sarasota, which Rudolph also had designed.

(The School Board in 2007 and 2008 worked with county, national and international preservationists who wanted to save that Riverview structure. The board finally voted to tear down the building after the preservationist group was unable to raise funding to preserve it for other uses on the Riverview campus.)

“We need to take an active role” in historic preservation, Barbetta said, “[although] I realize the School Board is an independent [local government entity].”

Patterson agreed with Barbetta, she said, that the County Commission “should be very much at the forefront” of the effort to get county structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lorrie Muldowney, manager of the Sarasota County History Center, told the commission she and John McCarthy, interim executive director of community services, had attended the charrette. At the conclusion of the second evening’s discussions, Muldowney added, everyone had agreed with Option 5, which calls for maintaining the exterior of Building 4 as it is and keeping the west gym. The original proposal called for demolishing the gym and using glass to enclose the entryway of Building 4.

Scott Lempe, the school district’s chief operating officer, told The Sarasota News Leader June 14, “I was extremely proud of the outcome of the charrette and the participation of the people there.” By the end of the second night, he said, “100% of the attendees … voted for the same plan.”

Among those attendees were 10 to 15 representatives of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, Lempe said, adding that he had asked all the participants who approved of Option 5 to sign a copy of the plan before they left. All the SAF representatives did so, he said, including President Carl Abbott.

In his comments June 13, McCarthy also referenced “the remarkable change” from the first night of the charrette to the second night, “to see students and teachers and everyone involved feel like their voice was heard.”

However, Patterson pointed out that Option 5 is approximately $2 million more than the original estimate the School Board had discussed for the SHS rebuild.

The School Board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the charrette’s results when it meets at 11 a.m. June 19 in its boardroom at The Landings.

Barbetta told Muldowney during the budget discussion that he had been asked why the county’s History Center representatives had not spoken during the charrette.

McCarthy replied that he and Muldowney had met with representatives of the school district before the charrette was held. Lempe told the News Leader they had talked with him, as he was heading up the plans for the event.

Robinson said that if the final proposal from the charrette had been unacceptable to the commissioners, they could have discussed taking a policy position.

Nonetheless, she said, she was wary of “creating hard feelings” with the School Board, though she added, “I understand what happened with Riverview.”

Robinson also said she had discussed the matter with Caroline Zucker, chairwoman of the School Board. “We may not have been pounding our fists in public,” Robinson said, but county officials were working behind-the-scenes on the SHS rebuild matter.

National Register nominations

In response to a question from Barbetta, Muldowney said she and her staff had worked several years ago on an application to nominate four Sarasota School of Architecture buildings for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. That list included Building 4 at SHS, she said.

However, pursuit of the nomination had been taken up more recently by another group, Muldowney said.

“Because we didn’t do it,” Barbetta responded. “It’s a concern of mine that we’re not following through on things like that.”

When Patterson asked whether the owner of a building had to sign off on an application for the building to be considered for the National Register, Muldowney said, “Owner acceptance is not required” for a publicly owned building.

When Patterson then asked whether the School Board had consented to the SHS nomination, Muldowney said that when the document was sent to the Florida National Register Review Board about five or six years ago, the School Board was informed. She understood from state officials, Muldowney said, that “no objections have been filed.”

The News Leader learned through McCarthy that the State of Florida this week submitted a nomination packet for the Rudolph additions to Sarasota High School to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. Once the Keeper of the National Register’s staff logs it into that system, “they have 45 days to take action. If all goes well, after the 45th day a notice of its listing will be sent to the State of Florida,” says the Florida website of the International Working Party for the Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites, and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement.

2 thoughts on “County Commission seeks more involvement in historic preservation

  1. As the founder of Friends of Seagate Inc., a preservation organization that campaigned for the preservation of the Crosley Estate and proudly provoked it becoming a public possession, I can attest that the majority of citizens desire the preservation of historical structures and expect their elected and appointed leaders to make every reasonable effort to accomplish that objective for public buildings. The buildings under the control of the school board are the property of the taxpayers, not of the board — and these citizens should have a say regarding the preservation of those of historical value to the community. The community and people concerned with historic preservation throughout the world were quite audibly horrified by the demolition of Riverview. The economics of such decisions needs to be evaluated with an eye to the social and historical value of such buildings rather than a sole focus upon the bottom line.

    The historic preservation element of our comprehensive plan needs to provide tools for accomplishing the preservation of the heritage of the community. Please proceed with the workshop and invite public input to your recommendations.

  2. Incidentally, I sat with Carl Abbott, Joe King, Jay Litman, and several members of the Philip Hiss family at “table two” of the charrette held by the school board on two days this month and we submitted and proposed ‘option 4’ — upon which ‘option 5’ was modeled. Option 5 was the unanimous choice of two hundred attendees from all walks of life. The staff and students made suggestions upon our proposal and an astounding 100% consensus was achieved for the proposal with, I might add, a vocal refusal to consider alternatives that would include demolition of the gymnasium and significant alteration of the design of building 4.

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