Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Historic Stimulus: The Business of Preservation

Since its inception in 1976, the Federal Tax Incentives for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings program has generated over $50 billion in historic preservation activity. With over 35,600 projects, the program has produced thousands of jobs, enhanced property values, and attracted substantial investment to communities nationwide.

In Georgia, preservation continues to thrive despite an uncertain economy. In 2008, Georgia ranked 12th in the nation for final projects, with almost $30,000,000 in certified expenses for 18 projects. In addition, 43 projects were approved for tax incentives.

For over thirty years, federal and state tax incentives programs have helped propel historic preservation into a thriving business, and these figures only represent certified rehabilitation projects. In the United States, building renovation represents 35–45% of total construction spending. Best of all, studies show that for every dollar spent in rehabilitation expenses, five dollars is reinvested in the economy in the form of new housing units, local job creation, rejuvenated downtown centers, and protection of landfills from demolition materials.

Preservation facilitates not only economic development, but community development as well. The rehabilitation of older buildings preserves neighborhoods, giving communities a sense of place and history. Preservation also encourages sustainable growth by reusing existing resources and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.

The Atlanta Public School’s newly rehabilitated Springdale Park Elementary, which opened this fall, is a prime example of successful preservation. Located in the historic Druid Hills neighborhood of Atlanta, the campus encompasses three buildings: two former residences built in the early 20th century and a modern building designed and built according to LEED standards. In the inaugural 2009-2010 school year, the school will host 340 students, kindergarten through fourth grade.

In communities throughout Georgia, many historic schools are being rehabilitated for modern use. In addition to the economic, environmental, and preservation incentives of rehabilitation,
older schools are valued by students, teachers, and community members for their historic importance, magnificent and inspiring architecture, and ideal location within neighborhoods.
Furthermore, historic schools provide an invaluable setting to educate the next generation of preservationists.

The Buildings’ History
The historic buildings on the property were originally built as residences in the early 20th century. The larger of the two buildings, the Rutland Building, was designed by Atlanta
architect Neel Reid in 1913. Built for Atlanta resident Ben Z. Phillips, the brick house is designed in the Italian Renaissance style. The Hirsch house, located on the corner of the lot was designed by Martin Nicholes and was built in the same time period.

In the late 1970s, the surrounding Druid Hills neighborhood became one of the first locally designated landmark districts in Atlanta and was placed on the National Register of Historic
Places.
In 1979, The Howard School, a private school for children with language learning disabilities and learning difficulties bought the property. In 2007, The Howard School sold the campus property to the Atlanta Public Schools, and administrators began to plan the site’s expansion into a new elementary school. Named Springdale Park Elementary in honor of the nearby parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the new facility is intended to relieve crowding at neighboring schools.

Community Support
Many parents are excited about the rehabilitation of Springdale Park Elementary. “It’s a green place to learn that is representative of the way the world is today. It’s efficient, it’s green, it’s historic. It’s a nice blend of the old and new. It’s very forward thinking,” said Jenn Ballentine, Springdale Park Elementary School PTO board member.

The Players
In 2008, Atlanta Public Schools and architectural firm Perkins+Will unveiled plans for the rehabilitation of the historic buildings and construction of a modern addition. Due to the site’s local landmark status, the plans had to be reviewed and approved by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. The final plans called for the removal of the modern additions attached to the Rutland building and the rehabilitation of the existing buildings according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The contractor of the project is Barton Malow Company. In addition to the rehabilitation, the property is to be landscaped exclusively with plants listed on Frederick Law Olmsted’s original plant list for the
neighborhood.

The Finished Product
In the end, the plans produced an exciting mix of old and new. The historic Rutland Building is the home to the principal’s office, art classrooms, and media center. The first floor of the building was rehabilitated to reflect the historic character of the building. The original hardwood floors and woodwork were refinished and the staircase was stabilized and rehabilitated.

The Hirsch house is receiving minor updates. The newly built Olmsted Building is separated from the Rutland Building by a courtyard and is the first Atlanta public school designed based on LEED standards. As a result, the school boasts a rooftop garden, a grid of 50 wells 400 feet below the earth to provide energy efficient heating and cooling for the building, and highly efficient water fixtures to reduce water use by 20 percent. In addition, 75 percent or more of all construction waste was diverted from landfills by separating and recycling waste materials.

For students, teachers, and community members, the new Springdale Park Elementary School
is extraordinarily valuable. The project emphasizes preservation and environmental sustainability and presents an engaging lesson for the next generation. “The school provides us with great opportunities to talk to our kids, not just about the importance of being green, but about the history of where they sit,” says Springdale principal Yolanda C. Brown. “Here the kids are part of history.”

- The Rambler, 2009 Summer Edition

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