It's a safe bet that voters in the Toledo Public Schools district had something more aesthetically pleasing in mind than a bunch of nondescript concrete-block structures when they approved a massive school construction plan in 2002.
This is a once-in-two-lifetimes opportunity, so it's distressing to learn that school officials are attempting to save money on the $821 million project by using cheap building materials on the facades of the new Bowsher High School at South Detroit and Arlington and the new Leverette Middle School on Manhattan Boulevard.
To its credit, the Toledo Plan Commission turned down earlier requests from TPS to penny-pinch on the reconstituted Start High School and Libbey Middle School, and the commission would be well advised to take the same hard stance and protect the visual integrity of the Bowsher and Leverette projects when it meets next Thursday.
Given the huge amount of money being invested in the overall plan, which will replace 57 schools and renovate seven others, TPS residents are entitled to architecturally appealing buildings. After all, these schools are expected to house TPS students through the better part of this century. They should be built both to last and look good. If abiding by Toledo's zoning code means additional cost, then so be it.
The city code, which is more stringent than the state's school design manual, sets certain standards for building facades as well as for landscaping and irrigation. TPS is seeking waivers of these provisions, notably to use concrete blocks for 80 percent of the facades at Bowsher and Libbey.
With costs rising for building materials, especially steel, we can understand the desire of TPS officials to save money. Forgoing such amenities as landscaping and irrigation is one thing - those can be added later. But concrete blocks are permanent.
There was a time when aesthetic qualities of school buildings were recognized as an essential part of the educational process. It should be that way again.
Several existing city schools - Libbey High School comes to mind - have unusual and pleasing architectural features that made them worth saving rather than candidates for destruction. We should not expect any less for the buildings put up in their place.
This is particularly true since the state is supplying 77 percent of the project's total cost. TPS taxpayers are paying 23 percent via a 4.99-mill bond issue approved two years ago. Surely they want buildings of asethetic and architectural merit.
The 21st century is being heralded at the state and national levels as a time for the regeneration of American education. Cutting corners on construction of Toledo's schools would be a poor place to start.
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