There is good PR, there is logic, and then reason: DPS on old school buildings

Dr. Stanic barely has given up the “interim” title, and already PR issues are at the forefront. First was the no-bid PR contract to a Cleveland firm that was responsible for sending him to Dayton in the first place. Now, he’s running into a showdown with historic preservationists.

The problem with the highly charged preservation issue is that Stanic is fighting with a bunch of rules written by the construction lobby and dictated by Columbus, and his constituents are fighting to preserve romantic memories and their heritage. Mary McCarty describes Stanic’s frustration with the issue

Dayton’s interim superintendent, Kurt Stanic, could barely contain his impatience with opponents of the demolition of the old Julienne High School building.

About 90 minutes into the contentious meeting, Stanic asked for a show of hands: “How many of you voted for the bond levy in 2002?”

A significant number of hands went up.

“Well,” Stanic said, “if you voted for the levy, this is what you voted for. You voted to accept the rules of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which earmarks the money for new construction.”

He didn’t actually say, “Gotcha!” but it sure felt as if he did.

I voted for the levy in 2002, and I certainly don’t remember any language that stated, “If you vote for this levy, we’ll tear down every last historic building in the district.” With the notable — and admittedly costly — exception of Stivers, that’s exactly what the district is proceeding to do.

Joe Lacey, a member of the Dayton Board of Education, said, “I don’t think anybody understood that. If they had, the levy would have failed in all the major cities, and the state would have to look at all the rules they have that favor new construction over renovation.”

Lacey said OSFC regulations are more negotiable than the superintendent indicated, “but the school district hasn’t tried to push them in terms of renovation. That said, they’re still stuck with the problem a lot of the state funding is based on square footage and the Julienne site is a lot bigger than what they need.”

Despite audience perceptions, Stanic said he didn’t feel angry or upset during the meeting. “I’m a very direct person,” he said Wednesday, “and maybe people aren’t used to that.” He added that the purpose of the meeting wasn’t to rehash the fate of Julienne, but to unveil the plans for the new building and solicit input. Stanic made strong points about the nature of his role: “My job isn’t historic preservation; it’s elevating the level of instruction.”

Missing from his comments, however, was any sense of real compassion for the feelings of the community that aren’t mere nostalgia; they stem from a passion for preservation. What lesson is here for our kids? That new is better than old in every case? That there’s no value in preserving the past?

Former Kettering Mayor Marilou Smith, president and valedictorian of the Julienne class of 1945, described the meeting “as kind of a downer.”

“The superintendent had some valid points, saying he took on a terrible job,” she said. “But I don’t think he was too sympathetic because he believes we need a new school right now.”

Stanic made it clear he would tear down the building the minute he got the go-ahead: “We’ve already waited a year, and that has cost the district at least a million dollars in the cost of new construction. I have to recommend what’s economically feasible and in the best interests of the school district.”

Perhaps sensing her cause was getting nowhere, Donna Martin, the head of Preservation Dayton, urged the more than 80 audience members to attend the meeting at the Dayton Plan Board at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, where Julienne’s status as a local historic landmark will be debated.

via Mary McCarty: School chief voices no sympathy for efforts to save Julienne building.

It seems the preservationists missed a salient piece of ammunition in their favor: Dayton’s two top-performing schools, Stivers and DECA, are both housed in “old” buildings. If Stanic thinks there is any correlation between the quality of education and the age of the building, he’s doomed at improving student performance with his brand new set of buildings.

The Julienne/Dayton Christian building hasn’t suffered the maintenance neglect that has plagued other DPS buildings like Roosevelt. It’s also got an auditorium that can’t be matched. Granted, DPS isn’t planning on using the site for a High School, but, how about considering a combo-school, central office? Maybe it’s time for DPS to try to sell off the rest of the downtown palace- since they’ve recently managed to hand off the Training center across the street to Premier Health?

Is the battle over Julienne really where he wants to begin his relationship with the community? Considering that the “preservation lobby” in Dayton is one of the most consolidated power bases in the city- maybe compromise would be the smarter move. There is also the Julienne alumni that have ties back to the building. This may be an opportunity to build bridges into the greater Dayton community. Unfortunately, his PR consultants from Cleveland have no idea on how this all plays in Dayton.

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