Part I - Background and History
|John B. Gordon School. Courtesy of abandonedatlanta.com|
Located in the heart of East Atlanta Village, and in the hearts of hundreds of its former students, the John B. Gordon Elementary School has sat vacant since 1995. In June of 2012, East Atlanta Patch reported that the property had been purchased by Paces Properties. The building is to be demolished and a 125 to 145 unit apartment complex built in its place. A relatively brief moment of hope for the building came in the form of a year-long demolition moratorium after the results of the 2008 South Moreland Avenue Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) were being contemplated by the city of Atlanta. This past May the moratorium was lifted and plans for the apartment complex are now moving forward.
Originally built between 1909-10 as the East Atlanta School, the Battle & Barili designed building was expanded in 1934 under the New Deal era Civil Works Administration (CWA).
|Photograph of participants in class play at John B. Gordon Elementary School, Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, 1936. Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History, Office of Secretary of State.|
According to several sources, the school building was purchased sometime in the late 1990s by Inman Park Properties to be repurposed into lofts, a popular development proposal at the time with the Kirkwood School Lofts, Bass High School Lofts, and the Highland School Lofts all having been converted around the same time. Inman Park Properties, however, never managed to get anything done and the property sat vacant and abandoned for years, slowly shedding plaster from its walls. Inman Park Properties eventually went bankrupt, leaving behind the Gordon School and many other deteriorating historic buildings all around Atlanta.
Today, the John B. Gordon School looks like this:
|Auditorium/Gymnasium. Courtesy of abandonedatlanta.com|
|Second Story Music Room. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com|
|Library. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com|
|Stairwell. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com|
|Auditorium/Gymnasium. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com|
Part II - The Rant
Perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is the bit about the Atlanta City Council imposing a demolition moratorium in the LCI study area in order to assess the findings, presumably to prevent development not in line with the LCI recommendations and the City's resulting policy decisions. For a full year, Paces Property had to sit on their pending contract to buy the Gordon School, and for a full year the preservation community could have weighed in on the proposal. Instead, and all too often, the preservation community was mute. Opportunities like that don't come along often.
Of course, the building may in fact be beyond repair, as the developer claims, but all too often structural integrity is the scapegoat for developers looking to save face when they want to demolish an old building. And why not? The photos above certainly tell a tale of failing roofs, deteriorating walls, rotten floors, and vandalization. Again though, and it bears repeating, the preservation community had a full year (and roughly 16 years prior to that) to show that the building was salvageable. A great example of a historic building thought to be beyond hope by most (non-historic) building professionals is the Constitution Building in downtown Atlanta, which, after a thorough engineering study, has now been determined structurally stable enough for rehabilitation. Developers are under no oath to tell the truth, so rather than take their word for it, the City and the folks tasked with protecting historic buildings should have been more proactive. Another option, of course, could have been local historic designation, which would have effectively prevented the building's demolition without a full structural report being reviewed by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (or, at least, a petition from Paces for an economic hardship variance). At the very least, a blog post would have been a good start...
The more obvious gripe is the fact that the Gordon School was allowed to sit vacant for so many years in the first place. Public agencies like Atlanta Public Schools (APS) should be required to develop a management plan for decommissioned public buildings, as these are, after all, public property and by sitting vacant, result in lost tax revenue, opportunity costs, ancillary costs, and various socio-cultural costs. Vacant, deteriorating buildings (and vacant 'speculation' lots) are urban diseases and do far more harm than simply allowing demolition by neglect. Not only should public agencies be held responsible (I'm talking to you again, APS, and your failure to appropriately deal with the historic Howard High School), but developers like Inman Park Properties, who sat on the historic Gordon School, letting it deteriorate for years, should be taxed or fined. Philadelphia was working on a program that would do this and Atlanta recently approved a registration fee for vacant properties, but to really force developers to either do something productive or move on, the fees need to be steep and enforced.