8/10/2007 2:50:00 PM Guest column Preservation is an opportunity
By RODNEY BOND For the Daily News
How magnificent it would be in the not too distant future - two, five, 10 years from now - to be able to market Robinson by saying, "We have preserved our old high-school gym built in 1938 by the Public Works Administration. We took the opportunity to work in conjunction with Landmarks Illinois, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Illinois Historic Preservation Legislative Caucus to accomplish the preservation. In the process, we developed a new curriculum with the Industrial Arts Department to study architecture and teach the skills and techniques for the preservation of older structures."
There is a movement in Illinois to preserve older historical school structures. House Bill 1356, introduced Feb. 20 by Rep. Rich Brauer (R-Petersburg), co-chair with Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) of the preservation caucus, is intended to help encourage rehabilitation of historic schools.
According to Landmarks Illinois, "The bill recommends an amendment in the school construction law that would encourage rehabilitation over replacement of school buildings determined historically or architecturally significant by the state historic preservation officer." (http://www.landmarks.org/pdfs/school_bill_H_B_1356_handout.pdf)
Action is also being taken in Washington. On Feb. 14, HR 1043, formally known as HR 3159, the Community Restoration and Revitalization Act, was reintroduced by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) with Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) as the minority party lead. The Senate companion bill is S 584. The act, originally introduced in 2005, contains important amendments to the existing Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program that make the program more useful for community revitalization and affordable housing, helping historic properties throughout the state. (http://www.landmarks.org/how_fed_issues.htm)
The caucus mentioned above started in 2006. It consists of 80 members from both the House and Senate - almost half the General Assembly - and is the largest issue-based, bipartisan caucus in Springfield. Members of the caucus from the local area include Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, and Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Charleston.
Why do we want to preserve? The IHPA answers this question:
"It is reasonable to ask, "Why preserve?" when faced with the decision of what to do with an older property. The thought of starting fresh when faced with the problems of an older home or building is attractive in our modern society. The downside of this tendency, however, is that we lose part of our history every time we raze an old building. Without the old structures, cities take on a different character; neighborhoods lose their identity; we more easily forget those who went before us. Each time an old building is torn down, one of our cultural roots let go.
"When we preserve and restore our historic resources - buildings, sites, structures, objects, and landscapes - we gain a lot:
We maintain our community's appearance and character, which gives it an identity and a personality all its own.
We give our children a glimpse of the architecture of their forefathers and mothers.
We save the artistic workmanship so evident in older structures.
We "recycle" structures into other uses."
The RHS Auditorium-Gymnasium had to meet rigorous and specific standards to be included on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service, which administers the Register, summarizes those standards with this statement: "The National Register's standards for evaluating the significance of properties were developed to recognize the accomplishments of all peoples who have made a significant contribution to our country's history and heritage." (http: //www.nps.gov/history/nr/listing.htm) The NPS says a property on the National Register captures the essence of a time in history, and is not ordinary. The property must stand the test of time. Thus, properties less than 50 years old are generally not considered.
The National Register listing process involves research into the building's impact on its community, and a Daily News editorial of Sept. 25, 1939, was part of the extensive documentation required: "Both the appearance here of Mrs. Roosevelt and the U.S. Marine Band would have been impossible without the new R.T.H.S. gymnasium, for there would have been no place to accommodate them. And even before the building was entirely complete, it housed the important meeting of the Illinois-Indiana Petroleum Association, which probably would have had to have been placed elsewhere without it. We believe the contentions of the school board that the building would serve a large purpose as a community auditorium, as well as give the R.T.H.S much needed extra accommodations, has been well-proved..."
From the National Register to the "Ten Most Endangered" list, the gymnasium is recognized at the state and national levels as being a significant piece of history. People from other parts of the country and the world interested in the history of our country may venture to our town to see and study this piece of history for its architectural significance as a rare example of the Art Deco/Moderne style. We travel to Europe and elsewhere to marvel at architecture and study history. Why not here?
Your help is needed to stop the destruction of the gym. It was not condemned!