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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dammit, he's right!

Trentonian columnist L.A. Parker wrote Saturday that the outpouring of support that has developed for saving Trenton Central High School from the wrecking ball seems incredibly insensitive, given the plight of the students who are actually trying to learn in the building.

He may have hit on something that seems to have been lost in all of the brouhaha over preserving that wonderful structure in the East Ward.

It may be cliche, but what about the children?

While it has been the belief here that the building ought to be saved if possible, it is also a reality that the students who are studying there already face enough problems in trying to get an education in a poverty and crime-ridden community.

They shouldn't be distracted and required to worry about learning in a structure that is falling apart and much too large for the present student population.

So if it turns out that building new state-of-the-art facilities would remedy that situation more quickly than a renovation effort could, then Trenton needs to bite the bullet and move in that direction.

Surely portions of the building - especially the wonderful front facade with the clock-tower - could be saved for historical purposes or even for use as some sort of athletic or educational facility.

The children studying there currently should not be punished because a city and a school board couldn't keep up with a regular schedule of maintenance to keep the building in working form.

And while that inability to manage the maintenance of the buildings is one of the real causes of this problem, the city will get nowhere by moving towards a renovation effort simply to remedy the past ineptitude of Trenton's school administration.

Preserving historical structures is important to keeping a link to the city's great past, especially in hope that one day another great future will come to Trenton, but that effort should not take precedence over the teaching of children who so desperately need a proper education.

For all his shortcomings, Superintendent Rodney Lofton made two important points at a school board meeting last week, where good comments and pertinent information came few and far between.

"Facilities do not determine a child's education, but they have an effect on it," said Mr. Lofton. "One thing that is good about being superintendent is that all I have to worry about is the needs of the children."

Maybe - and in fact more likely - renovating the school could provide a proper learning environment for the kids at Trenton Central, using plans that were put together years ago.

But whatever the case, it is important to pick the plan that will better satisfy the needs of the current, living children rather than the needs of those trying to save a historically-significant but inanimate building that has already gone into disrepair.


Observer said...

You could drop a bomb on Trenton High and build the Taj Mahal of high schools and it wouldn't solve the school's problems. And if Trenton High is so big, why did we open the West Campus, the Medical Arts Campus, the Daylight/ Twilight campus? Should we bomb them, too? How many high schools do we need with our declining population and high drop out rate? Please don't blame the architecture!

Greg Forester said...

Oh ok, screw the building and the kids and everything else in Trenton because it won't make a difference, but at least try and save the architecture...good logic.

So by your logic the architecture doesn't matter, so the current building shouldn't either.

All I am saying is an improved facility is needed, and quickly, and that should be the priority, and not the architecture, that is secondary.

Like I said, the purpose of the building and those who are ACTUALLY using it are the primary concern here, and the architectural/historical significance is secondary.

Miss Karen said...

Exactly. While it's incredible and awful that the school building has been allowed to fall into this state of disrepair, the point is that the kids need to be in a better facility as soon as possible. Whether or not the schools in Trenton have other problems, which clearly they do, is irrelevant. It pains me too to agree with L.A., but I guess even a stopped clock is right twice a day? Does that metaphor even make sense here? Probably not.

Greg Forester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Forester said...

I think it may work in this case Ms. Karen. It's difficult for me to side with the status quo, but the truth is that the historical significance really is secondary. Hey, maybe they renovate it for the same cost. But the judgment needs to be based on what's better for the kids.

Chrissy said...

LA's article resonated with me, to a degree, as well. However, he has a tendency to issue statements indicating that because people care about x, they can't possibly care about y, when one does not necessarily impact the other. Most of us here care about the building and the kids. And I'm sure we all agree that the building should have never fallen into that kind of disrepair. I'm sure we all agree that the societal ills that plague Trenton should never be, as well. I'm not saying that these problems are mutually exclusive -- there is certainly overlap. But building a new structure is NOT going to fix the problems that face our young people in the Trenton school system, especially since no one has been able to tell us if a new building will be maintained as well, which will lead us back to the same place, except with a lousier building.

For the school board to vote to build new is essentially meaningless anyway, since they have no real power -- no money, no site, no pull with the SDA's list of priorities; and the last time they took a vote to take action, they didn't get anywhere, either. A vote now is impulsive. And in the meantime, the kids of Trenton continue to suffer, because of this lack of action/resolve. However, the school kids of Trenton would continue to suffer even if a new building magically appeared tomorrow. Society's ills run far deeper than the foundation of any building.

My point is we have two separate issues that can be addressed by two different groups. Let Lofton et al figure out how to help these kids, and allow this city to save that school. I am in no way implying "screw the kids" just because I am still in favor of saving the building.

We have learned, as humans, that when we lose our iconic buildings -- think Sarajevo in the 1990s, and the WTC in 2001 -- we mourn the loss of the buildings, not as much as we mourn for the people who died in those places, certainly. But those buildings represent so much of humanity's greatness, of what we can accomplish, and the empty footprints left behind are a throbbing, aching reminder of what was, and what could have been. In the case of TCHS -- which has been likened (perhaps inappropriately) to a warzone -- all is not lost. We have a complicated problem on our hands, but we are capable of healing. Fix that handsome building -- a short term, attainable goal -- and let's keep talking about, and working on the deeper, more troublesome issues of our wounded city to give these kids a better chance in life.

Greg Forester said...

BUT, either building anew school or renovating provides a new learning space they have apparently needed for a long time, and whichever avenue provides that in a more timely fashion is important.

Old Mill Hill said...

Greg, consider this:

If the costs of refurbishing/updating/saving the existing building are similar to the costs of building anew; if the time line for renovation is shorter than that for new construction; and if saving and renewing an existing resource is the "green" thing to do and a value we want to instill in our young people...

...doesn't renovation trump new construction?

Greg Forester said...

Absolutely, but those need to be the reasons for the decision, and not simply saving a historical building...

Cal said...

Of course, it's about the kids. It always has been about the kids. Larry, as usual, is trying (actually seems to have succeeded) to add a racist spin to this situation, that frankly does not exist. Saving that building (IE completing a facilities construction plan that has been approved and on the books since 2000)is the best way to get the high school students of Trenton into an appropriate learning environment. If you had the slightest idea what the current regulatory approval process requires, you would acknowledge there is no chance of the SDA's plans ever being approved, funded and built. The TBOE is not the culprit here, other than allowing themselves once again to be placed in a no win public showdown over the fate of TCHS. The SDA is the culprit. They or their predator predecessors have controlled the funding strings for maintenance and construction in Trenton for the past eight years. They have to fulfill their promises and their mandate and get TCHS built

Greg Forester said...

That is fine, but someone needs to say that then and get the point across to the school board.

In their incorrect perception this is probably being spun as a bunch of out-of-towners without kids going to the school simply trying to save a historical building.

Those who want to save the school need to argue that it will help out the kids much sooner and at a similar expense than building the two new schools, instead of appealing from the historical angle, which as I said, is secondary.

The SDA is a wasteful, slow, dishonest state agency like its predecessor, and if that is the whole point of this matter, than that needs to get pointed out and harped on instead of the historical value of the building.