School board’s Roosevelt revivalism inappropriate for district’s future

Living in Ames, a fairly progressive college town, we often forget how blessed we are. To be, for the most part, so open to moving forward towards modernity and yet so aware and appreciative of our history is a rare quality that is sometimes taken for granted. Of course, it’s never easy when the former interferes with the latter–when beloved city landmarks and institutions need to be replaced, and it is required for the sense of nostalgia and tradition to be replaced with hope and preparation for the ever-approaching future. Sometimes, it is necessary to think and plan with the head rather than the heart or soul–something that is quite difficult to accept. That does not just apply to citizens, of course–leaders often fall prey to the same kind of nostalgic Despite my respect for them and my gratefulness for the efficiency and clearheadedness that they have shown throughout the tumultuous last few years, I have been disappointed in the priorities set by the Ames school board this year. With a budget crisis over their heads and a bleak outlook for each and every one of the district’s elementary buildings, they should be operating with efficiency and relative urgency to provide the most fair and sound future for the children of Ames. Instead, they have spent the entire year trying to figure out how to reopen Roosevelt Elementary. Echoing the sad, unrealistic sentiment of the “Save Carr Pool” and “No New Mall” crusades, this current campaign by “Roosevelt revivalists”–a majority of the school board–has gained legitimacy while ignoring practicality, relying on nostalgia rather than financial sense. The board hired architecture firm StruXture Architects to develop a long-term facilities plan for at least $120,000. The firm recommended a five-school elementary system. Superintendent Tim Taylor studied the situation, all the potential possibilities, and the overall outlook. He recommended a five-school elementary system. The school board then decided to submit a six-school system for development, using financial logic that has been criticized by both Taylor and district CFO Karen Shimp as being unsound to reopen a building without handicap accessibility that is nearly a century old. I understand the appeal of a “neighborhood school” concept. It’s comfortable and safe, it fosters community and encourages relationships–it is the ideal environment for a middle-class American child to grow up in. And I understand the feeling of loss that the Roosevelt neighborhood must have had five years ago when, under financial pressure, the school board quickly–and rather quietly–closed the school. The neighborhood is the center of Ames–one might argue, its heart–and for nine or so decades, Roosevelt served as a common grounds for children to grow up and the community to grow closer. But times change, cities sprawl out, and brick and mortar get worn. The school’s lot, StruXture told the board, is too small for a proper, modern elementary school. The lack of compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act would require hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation costs–in addition to the cost of general renovation and modernization–to make the school handicap-friendly if it were to be reopened. In terms of where the students are, Roosevelt is no longer as efficient of a center as the five-school system recommended by both the architects and Taylor. Earlier this year, I attended a public input session on the elementary plans held in our auditorium. The parents who spoke, and those who have continued to speak at regular board meetings, were genuinely afraid that having three class sections per school or spreading kids to four or five schools instead of six would create an unsafe environment where bullying and the beginnings of gang activity would emerge. It’s partially valid, although, having grown up in a five-section school that was one of nineteen elementaries in the Columbia (MO) Public Schools, I have seen that the environment of the general neighborhood has more to do with those things than how many children are in the school. But our city is not something for us to be afraid of. We in Ames have low crime, low gang activity, fairly low bullying and child abuse rates, and a better feeling of community than most, even with Roosevelt Elementary currently closed. And while an appreciation of tradition is wonderful for a community to have, it is time for the school board to stop using nostalgia as a guiding principle and continue to be progressive and smart leaders for the district. For, as they repeat in their mission statement at the start of each meeting, they–and all of us, really–are there to ensure that all learners are given everything necessary “to grow in and shape a changing society.”