Saving Smith

A Last-Minute Tirade Against Troglodytism

We’re likely to receive a decision to loose another landmark in historic Chillicothe, Ohio. The Chillicothe City School Board meets tonight at 5:30, and may vote to accept the demolition bid for Smith School.

CHS High School in the 1940sThis is part of their revised Phase 2 plan for a new elementary / middle schools. They want to 3) demolish what’s in the way, 1) make their plans, and 2) ask you for money – in that order.

(At least it’s not another “midnight raid” where Gillum’s arrives on a Friday afternoon, allowing no chance for a judge’s injunction to stop the demolition. However, if there is a legal battle, don’t discount a wrecking ball arriving from West Virginia on the weekend…)

Now, I will be told (if I warrant any attention at all as a Preservationist blasphemer) that I’ve got it wrong, that there’s a sensible reason for this, that they know what they’re doing, that’s it’s just business.

20091120_25103-CLLWhatever. Soulless bureaucrats and bean counters always know what they’re doing, and they always know that everyone else is always trying to get in their way – especially those who pay their salaries with taxes.

This is the same claptrap that has lost us other landmarks in a town that should be ten times more aware – and jealously protective – of its physical heritage, and not all-excited about another 23-year-lifespan building, whether it’s on Bridge Street or Arch Street.

What I am pretty certain of is that the powers-that-be in the school system have been hating on Smith for years – and they have little vision beyond conforming to current school standards, resulting in consistently destroying solid community assets and replacing them usually with new junk.

Name one Chillicothe school building built since WWII that is a building 1) worth being proud of (not just as a school that your child happily attends, but as a community asset building), 2) worth what was spent on it, and 3) worth keeping after 50 years.

I’d say Worthington, Hopewell, and Tiffin get B-. Sorry, but Allen, Central, and McArthur don’t make my grade. Unrenovated CHS is middling, and renovated CHS / new CMS is still middling at C- (Yeah, ‘It’s the high school!’ Sure, its functional, but it’s blah, it’s flat, it’s bland).

But NONE of those match 1931 Smith – or lost 1927 Mount Logan or 1901 West Fifth CHS.

And 1911 Western is the oldest school building that was in recent use – and probably the most solid, and among the most attractive. It’s now vacated and filled with paintball splats.

2009_SCOPS-Smith5-144-p2So what will the board do? Destroy Smith, and Western along with it. And replace them with lumps of schools.

Don’t worry, they might insult anyone who sees the value of Smith by sticking parts of Smith onto the new lump.

And when they come to you saying ‘We’ve been wise with our money, if you vote us a bond levy we won’t need any extra to build new schools,’ what will you tell them?

Will you say ‘Oh, I can’t punish the children even if the system destroyed the second most significant public building in the county. I guess I have to vote yes.’

Will you cry like a woman I met in Richmondale a few years ago about how your sentimental and reusable community landmark was destroyed by an uncaring school board who did what they wanted and ignored you with the help and guidance of the state? Will you be a serf, reverencing your superiors and giving them what they expect from you?

Although Save Our Smith testifies that the current version of the Ohio school facilities commission has assisted with renovation of historical schools, that state agency has also been a major partner in the holocaust of historic schools – it’s part of the School Demolition-Construction Complex. (How better to profiteer than by tearing down a school so you can build a new one?)

Granted, the school board did not vote to demolish when they planned, in January – instead, they waited until now, almost the end of the demolition contractor’s March 30th deadline. But their intent is clear, and their increasing dismissal of anything but their plan from the start is clear.

“Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind.” Gradual demolition by neglect even while housing students there, dropping communications with preservationists, starting this end-game process at a very difficult time just before the holidays, forcing the timeline along, and giving increasing disrespect and dismissal of preservationists…did I miss anything else?

And then there are the same lies and delusions told about the Carlisle building – ‘Oh, it’s too old. It’s too damaged. It’s not worth it. The community deserves a new building. We can’t afford it. Parking, parking, parking.’

How many of those voices have we heard since work finally started on the Carlisle? (None. They’re silent because they’re eating their words.)

IMG_0748-CABy the way, why were preservationists slow to get back to the issue of saving Smith? Partly because WE WERE HELD BACK BY DELAYS IN SAVING THE CARLISLE.

The repeated mantra for Smith is that the classrooms aren’t the right size and shape, and the stairs will cause too much problems.

True, the classroom is almost the most important aspect here – this is all about teaching. Everything else but the students are secondary. If students don’t learn, there’s no point of any of this.

And I don’t want to punish teachers (having some teaching experience myself), but a good teacher can teach in a shack. A bad teacher can’t teach in a palace. Yet the system wants to destroy a palace and replace it with a glorified shack. Yes, complete with a “Media Center” and tidbits from the palace they destroyed to make way for the shack.

20150211_001019-CASo, go with Plan B – replace the rear wing with new classroom “programming”! Allow a little extra time to traverse stairways! The kids need exercise anyhow.

‘Oh, but reusing any part of Smith will cost more than we want!’ ‘We have to be responsible with the voters’ tax money!’

Well, quality has its price. Ask Greenfield McClain, and other renovated historic schools. Yes, it costs a little extra. There were cost overruns. But how much regret is there for that? Will there be much regret after 23 years? 50? 100?

How much regret will there be on Arch Street at ANY time after demolition starts?

What are our schoolchildren worth?

What will you leave them with?

Administration – District Vision Statement:

“The Chillicothe City School District will achieve excellence in all areas by preparing students to be productive lifelong learners and citizens in a global economy. Stakeholders will view the district as successful and operating with the highest levels of commitment, integrity and trust.”


Published by:

Kevin B. Coleman

Pre/historian, architectural historian, re-enactor, guide, reporter, speaker, writer, gardener, craftsperson, husbandman, et al., who can work in stone (flint knapping, flintlock, silicon chip) among other things and who is determined to use my knowledge, wisdom, and personal survival to help the greater good. At least, my cats and dog here in semi-rural Ohio tell me that.

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