Lincoln Elementary Razed
Historic School demolished before completion of required review process
By Lauren Walser | Online Only | May 6, 2011
A c.1920 elementary school in Gering, Neb., fell to the wrecking ball earlier this year to make way for a new, energy-efficient facility. Now the school district's application for federal funding may be denied because it moved to demolish Lincoln Elementary without following the proper state and local review processes.
Gering Public School District applied for a FEMA grant to help defray the cost of building a community safe room in the new facility. But the school district had demolished the historic school building, which may have been eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, without completing a Section 106 review. This failure may lead FEMA to reject the application.
"Section 106 wasn't designed to stop [new construction] from happening, but it is a process that one has to go through," says Jill Dolberg, review and compliance coordinator at the Nebraska State Historical Society, who worked with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency to notify the school district of the building's potential historic status prior to demolition. "This is a cautionary tale about not getting in a hurry."
Over nearly two decades, the school district evaluated multiple proposals for the future of Lincoln Elementary. Ballot measures proposing new construction on a different site repeatedly failed. In 2009, the school district hired RB&B Architects in Fort Collins, Colo., to conduct a feasibility study. The firm concluded that the cost of rehabilitation would be prohibitive, and that classrooms and hallways could not be enlarged to meet the needs of a growing school district.
George Schlothauer, principal of Lincoln Elementary, say the feasibility study results confirmed what some local residents observed firsthand: "Once people got into the building and saw the condition of it, they understood why we needed a new school."
In November of 2010, voters overwhelmingly passed a $7.9 million bond issue to demolish the building and construct a new facility. The original brick school building was razed shortly thereafter.
Construction of a new facility is set to begin in the coming weeks, and preliminary work has already started. Students have been relocated to a building three miles away in Scottsbluff, Neb., and are expected to attend class there until the new facility opens in fall 2012.
"We have some issues there, but we had so many issues in our old building that we're just used to it," Schlothauer says.
Architects are including elements of the old building in the new facility, including a limestone nameplate engraved with the school's name. Other elements, like fire alarms, a coal chute, and locally manufactured bricks used in the original building's construction, have been salvaged and will be placed on display inside the new school.
"Our community is going to get a building with additional classrooms and a safe room whether we get FEMA funds or not. That's the important thing," says superintendent Don Hague. "Taking a look at the United States right now, FEMA is going to be stretched as far as it can be stretched. I'm not sure we're going to be high on the priority list when you look at Tuscaloosa and places that are going to have to rebuild entire communities."
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