We talked here yesterday about the twin specters of sprawl and socioeconomics facing Durham Public Schools' proposed new high school site at the intersection of Erwin and Cornwallis on the edge of Duke Forest.
The proposed site, sitting on an undeveloped greenfield site, has led some to scratch their heads as to why an undeveloped parcel is under evaluation for a new school -- a decision that likely has something to do with the widely-reported desire of DPS to apparently find a 50-acre site for a new high school to accommodate surface parking and athletic fields that go with a school.
Before we look to build a school on a parcel big enough to swallow half of Winnie-the-Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood, though, many (including us here at BCR) would rather see an examination of how you could reuse an existing space -- an old shopping center, say, or other locales within the heart of Durham rather than its periphery.
It's not clear whether DPS has been looking at the feasibility of how such an existing site could be adapted to this use, but one BCR reader has been. That'd be Yonah Freemark, a recent Hillside High and Yale grad who's also a nationally-focused blogger on transportation policy and researches new urbanism and development practices. (Yonah commented on yesterday's BCR story, and was summarily interviewed for the Durham Magazine blog. Welcome to Durham's version of the 24-hour news cycle.)
Yonah put pixel to digital canvas and came up with some interesting representations on how Hillside and Durham School of the Arts fare on an in-town urban site -- and how the old Lakewood Shopping Center, the University Ford dealership, and the old Erwin Mills site near Ninth and Main could fare as urban school sites providing most or all of the amenities of a larger campus. He was also kind enough to allow us to share his sketches, so here goes.
First, a look at what exists today at DSA and Hillside. A brief key: C refers to multi-story classroom buildings; A to administrative, cafeteria and auditorium space; G to gyms; P to parking; and for other sports facilities, we have (B)aseball, (F)ootball/track, (S)occer and (T)ennis.
(DSA also has newly-constructed tennis courts north of Minerva, at the northern edge of the picture, and has some parking just north of that south of Trinity Ave.)
In Freemark's model, the three in-town locations would all see four-story academic and administrative facilities, allowing the schools to fit snugly into sites that are snug, yes, but not necessarily more so than DSA -- or than pretty much any urban high schools being built in America.
A facility at Lakewood would be able to fit all high school facilities directly on site, without even reusing the old movie theater and former Duke Surplus Store (just north of the northern parking lot) or some of the outparcels on the eastern side of the center.
For their part, both the Ninth Street area site -- located between the remainder of Erwin Mills and the Erwin Square office tower, and to the north of the site of a proposed hotel -- and the American Tobacco/University Ford site would rely on off-site parking such as the Hillsborough Rd. lot owned by Duke and the Ambacco city/county-owned decks for a portion of their parking, though a remaining portion of the old hotel site could be used for parking as well.
(Of course, University Ford is an active dealership and reports of renovation of the old hotel continue to hover out there, but this is a thought experiment, after all. Right? Right.)
(Download all sites and a legend in a single file: View this photo)
Naturally, there are challenges inherent in any of these designs.
But clearly, it would be nice to see the public discourse -- and, importantly, the governmental-private one, since the County Commissioners and DPS can and likely will negotiate behind closed doors on sites until one is announced, a common practice to avoid land speculation -- incorporate a closer look at the alternative use of sites.
Naturally, there'd likely be some consternation over the higher costs of constructing an in-town site versus a greenfield parcel, though from what we've heard the Erwin-Cornwallis site would likely already have some multi-story structures.
On the other hand, an in-town site would go a long way to reuse existing transportation and utility corridors, and would provide more activity and more traffic in urban areas, something that goes to support and revitalize local businesses. Check out the number of presumed DSA students shopping at Brightleaf Square after school one nice afternoon, for instance.
Here's hoping the fresh thinking doesn't end at the digital graphics tablet on this one.