APA Planning Mag Article Feb 2011 School Reuse


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APA Planning Mag Article Feb 2011 School Reuse

  1. 1. Rescuing the Castaways Page 10f5 SUNGARD ONESolution extends access to your community About APA Membership Events Education Outreach Resources Jobs & Practice APAPlanningBooks.com C;Prlrrh- Ame,lcanPlanningA•..,<llItlon Powered by Google l~~ APA Publications Planning - February 2011 Planning Previous Issues Rescuing the Castaways Contributor Guidelines Empty boxes of all sorts are being converted to new uses. Advertise in Planning By James Krone, Jr. Editorial Contacts Many cities have saved unique historic buildings by adapting them for new and profitable uses. But properties left stranded since 2008 by the receding flood of cheap loans are different. These are not Editorial Calendar one-in-a-million properties but one of a million - the glut of office towers, McMansions, and condos Planning April 2009 left behind by a decade of speculation, and the enclosed malls, big box outlets, and car dealerships orphaned by sagging retail sales of all kinds. Finding new purposes for these castaways may not be Planning May 2009 so easy. MyAPA ID or E-mail Planning June 2009 Housing affects the largest number of properties. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, nearly 19 million houses, condos! and apartments stood vacant in the third quarter of 2010. That is partly Planning July 2009 because the nations housing stock increased by 8.65 million units from 2002 to 2007 while the Password Planning number of households increased by only 6.7 million. While investors (including speculators) will snap August/September 2009 up cheap properties, houses that were built far from transportation, jobs, and shops, or that are overscaled for the needs of future buyers, may take years to move. Planning October 2009 The obvious way to bring these zombie houses back from the dead is to convert unsalable new units o Remember My ID Planning November 2009 into more marketable kinds of housing. Many cities have too many empty condos and not enough affordable rental housing. In New York City in late 2009, a coalition of housing activists held a Planning December 2009 demonstration dubbed Operation: Empty Condo-Conversion near the old Albee Square Mall in Planning January 2010 downtown Brooklyn. Members of the Right to the City Movement, a national and local Login Help antigentrification organization, had cataloged more than 600 local buildings with vacant Create a Login ID Planning February 2010 condominiums, which they demanded be converted into affordable housing units. Customer service Planning March 2010 McMansions also present a dilemma. "I do wonder," says urban blogger and consultant Aaron Renn, "if McMansions can or will be subdivided into apartments the way many older in-city mansions were Planning April 2010 JOIN APA during the decline of the urban core." Become a member and Planning May!June 2010 The answer suggested by past economic downturns is yes, at least for the in-town versions where connect with thousands of Planning July 2010 local authorities are lax in monitoring house conversions into multiunit buildings. Because of their people who share your large size, some McMansions have been put to uses never envisioned by their builders, from group dedication to building Planning homes to studios. However, as Christopher leinberger, the University of Michigan real estate vibrant communities. August/September 2010 professor and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, has warned, unsellable properties on the geographic fringe of many metropolitan areas could become "the next slums." Planning October 2010 Join Any number of visionary and "green" plans have been proposed as alternatives, such as mining Planning November 2010 unsold houses for building materials (see "Save It All!" December 2010). As part of a 2009 exhibit of new ideas about the built environment, one Irish design firm proposed, only half kiddinglYr to convert Planning December 2010 unfinished houses into crematoria, chapels, and tombs - a permanent residential subdivision for the Planning January 2011 dead. tarn (J ma.•• ters de.gr~e or ndated Planning February 2011 graduate , ~rIi(1C!H~n i APA Interact Sustainable JAPA Urban Practicing Planner _Jl••_ •.••••• _ Planning Zoning Practice Planning & Environmental Law PAS Memo The Commissioner ResourcesZine APA Advocate The New Planner PAS Reports APA Planners Press Subscribe Find out more about APAs Professional Redundancy, reimagining, and reuse • Institute School districts in areas of declining population face the same problem as housing developers: Both American Institute of have too much space for demand. This is especially true in parts of the industrial Midwest and Certified Planners Northeast, where long-term economic decline has been aggravated by the recession and the flight of YOUngjOb-~se~e_ke_r_s_. __ ~ __ ~ •• Consultant Charles Eckenstahi and Carl Baxmeyer of Detroit-based McKenna Associates estimate that Michigans-student populatron could drop by nearly eight percent between 2000 and 2030, leaving the state with 6,000 more classrooms than it will need. In Kansas City, Missouri, the problemhttn:llwww.nJanninfT()rfT/nl:mninfTlnp.f~l11t Irrrn
  2. 2. Rescuing the Castaways Page 2 of 5 Some redundant school buildings are likely to be mothballed for future use. The question is, what to do with the rest? A team from Cleveland State UniversityS Levin College of Urban Affairs recently compiled case studies of new uses for vacant buildings, including schools. One of the authors, urban studies professor Robert Simons, notes that most of the roughly 100 projects the team studied were Support APAs recycled as rental housing, including condos. philanthropiC activities across the country The converted-to-condos school dates to the 19805, and is probably the most common kind of repurposed building. Such projects have been completed in Medford, Massachusetts, the West learn More Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Seattle, New York City, suburban Pittsburgh, and many other cities, Make a Donation although the pace of such conversions has slowed as the housing market has become overbuilt. At the same time, pupil counts are zooming in some suburban districts. And even districts with declining enrollments may need more space, if, for example, they consolidate closed schools at one location. Brand-new schools such as charter schools also need space. One way to meet their needs is to make use of defunct retail space. Over the past decade, charter schools in Laramie, Wyoming, and Charlotte, North Carolina, have opened in old Kmarts renovated for the purpose. The public school district serving the Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale found the new space it needed in the vacant 300,000-square-foot Maryvale Mall. The district set up its central warehouse in the malls former bowling alley and remodeled former storefronts for use by two new schools, a middle school and an elementary school, opened in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Although they share a media center, kitchen, auditorium (the mall movie theater), and gymnasium (a former skating rink), the schools operate as separate facilities. Converting existing buildings offers a faster (if not necessarily cheaper) way to add classroom space than building from scratch. Safety upgrades are one significant cost, and at Maryvale, the large mall parking lot had to be unpaved to accommodate grass playing fields. Even 50, the conversion cost only $15.9 million for the two schools. Risen from the dead Estimates are necessarily inexact, but the number of "dead malls" in the U.S. is certainly in the dozens. A mall might be dead only in financial terms, since most remain open but are under- tenanted. (They might be more accurately described as malls on life support.) It has been at least a decade since the nations designers and developers began searching for alternative uses for moribund malls, especially enclosed ones. Entries in the Dead Malls Competition, held in 2004 by the nonprofit Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, included conversions of malls into windmill farms or wetlands dotted with "island" stores. Most mall owners want merely to make their properties profitable again, and most spaces are re-leased rather than being repurposed. But many ailing properties are more valuable for their land than for their buildings, which means that the nations economic recovery may see many of the old malls razed and their sites redeveloped for mixed use projects or town centers - new versions of the ersatz Main Streets that were the centerpiece of the enclosed mall. However, the old shopping centers often have generous spaces indoors and out, and they occupy convenient sites, making them potentially attractive to office and institutional users. Randall Park Mall in the Cleveland suburb of North Randall was described as the worlds largest shopping center when it opened in 1976. After it closed in 2008, a new owner gave it a new name - Devland City - and a new plan to make the complex a hub of foreign trade and manufacturing. The one-million-square-feet-plus Omni International Mall opened in 1976 in downtown Miami but declined over the years. After closing the mall in 2000, Omnis owners announced various plans for the property (induding turning the giant structure into a telecom hub), but none got off the ground. Today, parts of the mall are offices occupied by Miami International University of Art & Design, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Passport Agency, and others. In Niagara Falls, New York, plans are well along to turn about one-third of the roughly 70,000 square feet of the vacant Rainbow Centre shopping mall into a culinary institute run by Niagara County Community College. In 2009, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center established a new facility at the aging One Hundred Oaks Mall in Nashville. Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks now houses 22 specialized clinics in 300,000 square feet. Artists have always been drawn to the low rents in clapped-out sections of cities. Some malls are serving the same purpose in the suburbs. To attract people to the struggling Westfield Crestwood mall (formerly Crestwood Mall) just off 1-44, in the southwest St. Louis suburb of Crestwood, new owners since 2008 have offered empty storefronts to area arts groups to use as low-cost gallery and performance space, classrooms and offices, meeting space and shops, and storage until commercial redevelopment plans could be realized. Many enclosed malls added grocers to their tenant mixes, but urban agriculture is now part of the mix as well. The Galleria Mall in downtown Cleveland is home to what backers call an "urban eco village." Part of the glass-roofed mall functions as a greenhouse, in which vegetables and herbs are grown hydroponically. "Gardens Under Glass" sells the organically grown goodies to mall patrons and local restaurants - a real food court. From ersatz to actual Perhapsthe most familiar idea holds the most possibilities: Turn these ersatz town centers into real town centers. Several years ago a small local architecture firm came up with a plan to open the ends of the bankrupt mall on the edge of the Adirondacks in Gloversville, New York, and reconnect it to the towns existing street grid. The first-floor shops would have been fitted with windows and doors that faced onto a new street that offered sidewalks, bicycle racks, and bus service. By moving the local Amtrak station to the adjoining parking garage, argued the architects, the mall could even be turnedhttn://www.nl;mnino-oro-/nhmnino-/of.:f~nlt htm ?/?fl/?()ll
  3. 3. Rescuing the Castaways Page 3 of5 Such schemes look less radical now. "No matter how faded it may be now, the shopping center has been a centerplace in the community, and therefore makes a good candidate to become a centerpiece of a better community, " says Rodney Nanney, principal planner for the Ypsilanti, Michigan-based Building Place Consultants. He adds that the typical large mall layout offers opportunities to connect it to the existing street grid while maintaining some of the anchor tenants, who would become the nudeus of a new mixed use business and residential center. Pasadena, California, is an example. In 1980, the city partnered with a suburban shopping mall developer to build Plaza Pasadena, which occupied three blocks of Colorado Boulevard, the main drag. Within a decade, many new shops had opened along the streets around the development. In 199B the city approved spending $100 million to revitalize Plaza Pasadena by reopening the enclosed corridor connecting city hall and the civic auditorium and reorienting the interior stores to face Colorado Boulevard. The reborn outdoor mall, known as Paseo Colorado, thrived for a time, but like so many malls has struggled to maintain its once-upscale tenants. A similar proposal along those lines won MuivannyG2 Architecture a prize in the 2010 Future Image Architecture Competition sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The challenge, says Darren Schroeder, a principal of the Bellevue, Washington-based firm, is to get more value out of malls in urbanizing suburban areas. "The land on which [these malls] sit is rising in value. We thought, Why not build the city back? Take the urban grid and apply it to these 30 or 40 acres. Why not master-plan that?" Schroeders team proposed reducing the mass of the typical enclosed regional mall by cutting courtyards and skylights into the building and creating a succession of indoor and outdoor spaces with multiple tenants and points of entry. The downtown-in-a-box would be home to housing, libraries, markets, restaurants, an amphitheater, open space, and even (like Clevelands Galleria) farming. The tough ones Adaptive reuse has been a fact of life in cities ever since there have been cities, but some types of modern buildings cannot easily be converted to new purposes. Consider the modern office building. Silicon Valley was littered with enough empty high-rise and office park space in the fall of 2009 to fill 15 Empire State Buildings. But while factories, warehouses, and now shopping malls and big box stores have been successfully converted into offices, office-to- commercial and office-to-residential adaptations are more rare, at least in suburban locations. Condo conversions have little appeal in an already overbuilt market, and an office block built on land priced for that use may not return a profit to the builders when sold as housing. Further, says Aaron Renn, single-use zoning begets single-use buildings. The lack of windows in the typical big box and enclosed mall make them problematic places to put schools. The fact that the parking at car dealerships sits behind the buildings makes this particular class of properties unattractive to retailers. A more general problem is that many newer structures are not built well. Malls and big boxes are just boxes, and many McMansions are not built to last much longer than the mortgage taken out to pay for them. David Shepherd, the director of sustainable development for the Portland Cement ASSOCiation,says, "I regularly confer with European counterparts who express amazement or amusement toward our current building methods for what they consider disposable construction." Stephen Szoke, the associations director of codes and standards, points out that while many pre- 1950s office buildings were so well built that they can meet todays code requirements for virtually any use, newer malls and other retail structures may be fit for new lives only as factories or warehouses. "The short answer is, use for other occupancies is limited for many such bulldinqs," he says. Land-use regulations can be an impediment to reuse. Large-lot housing cannot be legally converted into other kinds of housing if zoning codes do not allow increased densities. And single-use zoning has left many suburban office buildings in isolated business parks too remote from schools and shops to attract families seeking housing. Zoning constraints are less of a problem for school-to-residential conversions, since most older schools are located in residential areas. But as Rodney Nanney notes, conventional zoning ordinances tailored to older mall projects (such as zoning the land as a shopping center district with speciflc permitted uses, setbacks, and parking requirements) are regulatory roadblocks to creative redevelopment. "The keys to getting around these roadblocks are creative use of the local master plan and the planned unit development process," Nanney says. Hamilton, Ontario, is debating changing the zoning by-laws to make it easier for developers to reuse vacant industrial and warehouse buildings without the hassle and expense of restrictive zoning and fees. The immediate cause was the dtys attempt to force an arts center operating as a legal nonconforming use in a former factory to conform to the Single-family residential zoning called for in the city plan. Most cities in the U.S. and Canada use exemptions and amendments to permit specific reuse projects, such as have long been used in brownfield redevelopment and adaptive reuse of historic structures. Hamilton itself did that in 2010 to allow a sports hub to open in a former Studebaker plant in the Ancaster Business Park. Overlays and special districts are more formal tools to achieve the same ends. One of many examples is Salt Lake City, which set up a special warehouse-residential district to allow empty warehouses to be reused as multifamily housing while permitting the continued use of going warehouse businesses. Money, not surprisingly, is a problem for conversions. Cleveland States Robert Simons explains that most of the school-to-residential conversions he researched were partially supported by low-income housing tax credits, historic preservation tax credits, or both. "A few schools had other uses, like community center or retail, but often these were not economically viable as stand-alone entities, he II notes. Simons adds that the optimum conversion target is a historic elementary or junior high school of between 35,000 and 100,000 square feet, with relatively tight floor area ratios. "Larger projects have sometimes not fared well, even with adjacent ball fields dedicated to new stick-built units to offset development costs," he says. AS promiSing as mall-to-urban-street conversions may be, only limited versions of the concept, as In Pasadena, have been executed. "Weve had nice conversations with a couple of developer-clients about our ideas," reports MuivannyG2s Darren Schroeder, but "nothing concrete" has come out of them. The next time Many people are thinking ahead. The Portland Cement Association recently published changes to thehttn·//llTUTllT nl<1nnlnn nrn/nl<1nnlnn/rlpf<ll1lt htrra )/lh/l()11
  4. 4. Rescuing the Castaways Page 4 of5 The respected British civil engineer David Gann antidpated the ICes standards by several years. He and colleague James Barlow studied attempts to reuse buildings left empty by a previous building bust in the United Kingdom. They conduded that a more flexible approach to both planning and building design and construction is needed to ensure that buildings can be converted easily when demand arises tor new uses. James Krone Jr. is a california-based writer and frequent contributor to Planning. Armories Without Arms Sometimes big boxes are left in local hands courtesy of the federal government. Many of the nations approximately 3,000 U.S. National Guard armories have been removed from service and transferred to municipal, nonprofit, or commercial ownership. Take the old armory in Jacksboro, Texas (pop. 4,500). The Guard erected a 10,776-square-foot armory on city land in the mid-1950s but in 1970 returned the property to the city, which also bought the building. The city rented the armory for proms, basketball tournaments, and reunions, says city secretary Shirley Grantham. In 1996, with the armory showing its age, Jacksboro obtained a $476,000 matching grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to develop Twin Lakes Community Activity Center. Modest upgrades to the armory included a workout room, new gym floor, and ADA compliance. Jacksboro Parks and Recreation Director Jim Feltz says the annual budget for staff and "bare bones" programming like youth sports is about $100,000. Other armories have been converted as well - into a Maine hotel, Brooklyn apartments, an Oklahoma museum, and private residences. However, the Houston Light Guard Armory has languished in local hands since 1938 - although a nonprofit is eyeing it. - Beth Henary Watson Watson is a writer and editor living in Mineral Wells, Texas. Image: The workout room in the converted National Guard armory in Jacksboro, Texas. Photo Beth Henary Watson. Resources Images: Top - Two schools - a middle school and an elementary school - were carved out of a vacant 300,000-square-foot mall in Phoenixs Maryvale neighborhood. Photo courtesy Marc T. Atkinson Middle School. Bottom - Part of the glass-roofed Galleria Mall in Downtown Cleveland now houses Gardens Under Glass, which sells organically grown vegetables and herbs to mall shoppers and local restaurants. Photo courtesy The Galleria and Tower at Erieview. From APA: "God and the Mall," Planning, July 2010, and "Mall Makeovers," Planning, July 2009. Meeting the Big-Box Challenge (PAS 537), Jennifer Evans-Cowley, 2006. Retrofits: Deadmalls.com is the most comprehensive catalog of ailing shopping malls, with news, photos, and commentary. The book, Big Box Reuse, by Julia Christensen (MlT Press, 2008), documents what 10 communities did with their abandoned retail outlets. See also RetrofiWng Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs, by Ellen Dunham- Jones and June Williamson (WHey, 2008). American Planning Assooenon ! 1011 National Planning Conference Saturday, ApnI9-Tuesday. "..,r,112. BOSTON 2011 THE WORLDS f~t:~ -~:~, -:::"1 Ii -e: PREMIER PLANNING .•. ~~:~;.~- 2":~~~~¥~~U CONFERENCE IS COMING TO BOSTONhttn://www.nl;mnln~on:r/nlannln~/cif.:falllt htrn ?nflnOll