Duval County Public Schools
Loretto Elementary School in Jacksonville, Fla., would be modernized under a $1.9 billion facilities plan proposed for the Duval County district.

$1.9 billion facilities plan will address aging schools in Duval County, Fla.

June 24, 2019
Some historically significant buildings will be modernized, but others are targeted for demolition.

Many preservation-minded residents of Jacksonville, Fla., worry about the fate of the city’s historically significant buildings

The Florida Times-Union reports some concern and a measure of relief among preservation advocates looking at the Duval County school board’s master plan to spend $1.9 billion to address aging school facilities.

Some schools with architectural significance will see millions of dollars of upgrades. But the plan also calls for some older schools to be torn down and consolidated, and others to be torn down and replaced.

Preservationists got a big win when Kirby-Smith Middle School, built in 1923, was recently taken off a list of schools to be demolished. It’s now slated to get more than $46 million to modernize the school.

Loretto Elementary School, 76 years old, also was given a reprieve and will be modernized.

“Schools become a focal point of their neighborhood, both for activities for children and for other civic events,” says Wayne Wood, a preservationist and author of “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage.” “And those schools built prior to the 1930s, almost all of them had the best architects of the time doing the designing. They are the architectural anchors of a neighborhood.”

Tracy Pierce, a school district spokesman, says the district will work with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission as it rebuild schools.

“As educators, we love the character and charm of old school buildings as much as anyone,” he says. “An old school building speaks to the history of public education’s contributions to the strength of our community and our nation. Today, we have to prepare students for the present and the future. We have to do that with highly limited funding, and those realities underlie decision making.”

A consultant’s study that helped guide the proposed plan found that 56 schools were in poor or very poor condition. The cost of bringing them up to modern standards would be too high, compared with just building new facilities, the study said.

The district says that many older schools are small, with low student enrollment, and it makes more financial sense to consolidate them with another school. Increasing concerns about student safety is another driving factor in favor of newer designs.

The master plan does provide good news for some older schools. Andrew Jackson High School would get $30.8 million in modernization if the plan goes through. It was built in the late 1920s, and along with Robert E. Lee is the city’s oldest high school building still in use as a school.

Lee was updated a few years ago, mixing modern elements with its historic character.

Ennis Davis, an urban planner, preservationist and historian, argues that demolishing the city’s dwindling number of historic buildings, schools included, should be a “last-case scenario.” Instead, renovation, mixing the old with new, should be seriously considered for all of the district’s historic schools — especially in areas that don’t have much political clout.

The city’s minority and inner-city areas have, for several decades, been more susceptible to losing older buildings, he said. Older schools such as Henry F. Kite and Annie R. Morgan, both scheduled for demolition, are just as important to residents in those neighborhoods as schools are to residents in more prosperous areas, Davis said.

If buildings can’t be saved, though, adaptive reuse of the old buildings should be priority, he said.

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