Cape preservation commission wants to save Franklin Elementary

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Franklin Elementary School (Fred Lynch)

A local group is speaking out about a $10 million component of the Cape Girardeau School District's $40 million plan.

The Cape Girardeau Historic Preservation Commission wrote a letter to the school board and superintendent Dr. Jim Welker concerning the district's plans to tear down Franklin Elementary School if voters approve a bond issue April 6.

The district facilities plan outlines projects for the bond proposal, including a new school on the same plot of land where Franklin is.

The three-page letter commended the district for remaining in the neighborhood but disagreed with the decision to build anew.

"However, the Commission believes that the present school can be saved, represents values that cannot be replaced and that it may be cheaper to do so than to remove it and build anew," said the March 15 letter, which was signed by R. Scott House, chairman of the commission.

The letter questioned the cost of renovations and necessity of retrofitting the school for earthquake safety. It requested the district reconsider the decision to demolish.

"Our concerns are that it seems they have not considered all the possibilities," said commissioner Wayne Bowen. He said the letter, which was authorized at the commission's Feb. 17 meeting, does not take a position for or against the bond issue.

Regardless of the outcome of the bond proposal, the district should reconsider, said commissioner Dick Kent Withers.

"It has nothing to do with elections, but it does have something to do with Franklin School," he said.

District officials said they did not hear concerns from the commission while drafting the facilities plan, the blueprint for the bond proposal. The school held forums last spring and steering committee meetings throughout the year to solicit input from the community.

Bowen said the commission became concerned in January when the school board finalized its facilities plan, including the demolition of the school, which was built in the 1920s.

"I think originally we wanted to save the building," Welker said. "I love the building."

When the district hired a construction management firm to solidify cost estimates for the plan, he said the district decided it was more cost-effective to build a new school.

Estimates for the renovation reached $11.8 million, said Neil Glass, director of administrative services. The renovation included bringing the building up to city codes for seismic activity and being accessible to handicapped students with ramps, an elevator and bathroom upgrades, Glass said.

Franklin was the only school considered for upgrades to withstand seismic activity because city codes were more strict when the Central Junior High School was built in the 1950s. The other schools were not considered because they are single-story structures, he said.

The new building, estimated to cost $10 million, includes demolition of the current building and construction of a new building and a bus lane, he said. Architects working on the project have been charged with incorporating the style of the neighborhood features of the current building, he said.

Welker said it would be unfair to change the plan that is being promoted by the district and will be considered by voters.

"To change it drastically, I'm not sure I would feel real good about it at this point," he said.

District officials plan to construct the new school next to the current one. To change the facilities plan would require changing other projects in the proposal and providing temporary structures for students during the renovation, said board president Kyle McDonald.

"The main concern I would have to is if we had decided to renovate Franklin, where are those kids going to school for a year-plus?" McDonald said.

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

215 N. Louisiana Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

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