With more than 100 years of history, Longfellow Elementary School more than qualifies as an Everett landmark and institution.
Built in 1911, nobody alive today can remember when it wasn’t there. And, until 1971, it was the introduction to education for thousands of Everett school children. Among those who sat in the school’s desks and wrote on its chalkboards were U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Northwest entertainer Stan Boreson.
So, it’s no surprise to hear objections to Everett School District plans to raze the building and replace it with parking stalls. Members of the Everett Historical Commission and Historic Everett have opposed the potential loss of the building.
Chris Moore, executive director for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation noted in a Herald story in November that Sen. Jackson was a prime sponsor of the National Historic Preservation Act, signed into law in 1966.
“It would be a sad irony if the building in which he attended elementary school were demolished on or about the 50th anniversary of that act,” Moore told The Herald’s Chris Winters.
Sad and ironic, but inevitable.
This is not a decision that the Everett School District and school board members have taken lightly or without seeking a different outcome.
Two years ago, the last time the school board was asked to reconsider tearing down the school, the district went out a final time to gauge the interest in finding a new use for the building; it spent more than $35,000 to market it to a potential buyer. It heard two proposals, including one hoping to use the structure as halfway housing for the homeless. But the district viewed neither proposal as financially responsive.
New buyers would find renovation of the Longfellow school as daunting as the district has. The building, by school district estimates, would require at least $8.5 million to bring up to modern building standards, then another $5 million investment over the next 20 years to maintain it. The building and its 1950s-era annex next door, are valued at $2 million to $3 million, but with the amount needed for renovation, the district likely would have received less.
Parking for about 66 vehicles seems a mundane fate for a venerable school building, but the school district does have a responsibility to provide for parking for the adjacent Everett Memorial Stadium, a facility that is used by both Everett and Cascade high schools during football, track, soccer and baseball games as well as by the Everett AquaSox minor league baseball team.
This isn’t a decision that should be delayed any further in hopes that mothballing the building might save it for a use not yet imagined or one financially feasible later. The district spends about $6,300 a month for minimal maintenance and security, a cost that is hard to defend when there are greater needs to maintain buildings that students use now.
Preserving historic buildings and finding new uses for them should be encouraged, and the Everett School District has a good track record in that regard. Among the district successes have been the renovation of South Junior High in 1994 into Sequoia High School; the renovation of Everett High School in 1996 that removed an eyesore annex from its front facade; and the remodel and seismic retrofit of Everett High School’s Little Theater in 1987 and 2009, a former church that has retained the architectural character of its north Everett neighborhood.
Those on the city’s historic commission and others were right to raise their concerns; the Longfellow school deserved a second chance to find a different outcome.
Having reconsidered the school’s fate, the district and its board now have to move forward. The school district’s first responsibility is education, not historic preservation.