On May 1, the Sarasota County School Board is scheduled to vote on hiring both the architectural firm and the contractor recommended by staff for the rebuilding of Sarasota High School.
Once the firms are under contract, Scott Lempe, the district’s chief operating officer, told the board during its April 17 work session, the next step will be scheduling a charrette “to bring all the disparate groups of people together” to decide how to proceed with the project.
That session could be held by late May, he added, though district spokesman Scott Ferguson told the Sarasota News Leader April 23 that it more likely would be held until June.
Lempe also cautioned the School Board that more than one charrette might be needed.
During their regular meeting April 17 — following the work session — the board voted unanimously to allow staff to negotiate with Harvard Jolly Architecture of St. Petersburg for the architectural work and P.J. Hayes Inc., doing business as Tandem Construction of Sarasota, for construction management services, as recommended by the district’s Professional Services Selection Committee.
The $26.5 million Sarasota High project already has become the focus of community discussion, as preservationists have questioned tentative renderings prepared by Harvard Jolly that show Building 4’s breezeways being encased in glass. That structure was designed by Paul Rudolph, an internationally renowned member of the Sarasota School of Architecture.
The School Board was criticized for its decision to tear down the original building at Riverview High School — also a Rudolph design — when the district undertook a rebuilding initiative on that campus; the new Riverview High opened at the start of the 2009-10 school year.
Preservationists in Sarasota County and from other parts of the United States and Europe pleaded with the board to keep that structure intact before the Riverview rebuild began. However, the board denied the request, after the preservationist group was unable to come up with funding to convert the Rudolph building to another use on the campus.
“I think there was an incredible amount of unnecessary controversy (about the Riverview project),” board member Carol Todd said, “and I don’t want to see us go through that again.”
“Whatever the outcome is (of the charrettes),” Lempe said, “someone is not going to like it.”
He added that staff needed to ensure charrette participants include teachers, parents and students, as well as preservationists.
All the board members agreed during the April 17 work session that their primary concern with the Sarasota High design should be the safety and security of the students.
“Security has to be an important issue,” board member Shirley Brown said. “That building cannot stay open like it is right now.”
Board member Frank Kovach said that when he had toured Building 4, no one had come up to him to ask for identification or to ask what he was doing on the campus. School was in session at the time, he added, rousing concern from his fellow board members about the lack of security.
In response to questions from board members about whether staff had made any promises to members of the community regarding the SHS project, Lempe said the only statement made was that the district would pursue plans for an appropriate rehabilitation for the Rudolph building, which dates to 1958.
“I think glassing in (the breezeways) impedes the architectural integrity” of Building 4, Todd said.
“I think that as a community, we’re really good at tearing down buildings and building new buildings and then reflecting at a later time, ‘Why did we do that?’” she added.
When Todd suggested the board members decide on parameters they’d like the architectural firm to follow in the rebuilding process, Chairwoman Caroline Zucker responded, “I would not like to see us give directions whether to close (Building 4) in or not close it in.”
“I just want everybody to know I have no intention and would never vote to tear down that Building 4,” Kovach said. “But anything else is negotiable.”
He added, “I think when we go through the design charrette, we need to keep in mind … what’s best for the kids.”