An education in school-building 


An education in school-building

I read with more than passing interest the architectural review by Edwin Slipek Jr. of the three new elementary schools in Richmond (Architecture, Oct. 12). As a former employee of Richmond Public Schools who spent more than 12 years working in the office which was responsible for the design, construction and renovations of schools, I can offer Style Weekly readers (along with Mr. Slipek) an "education" of sorts of what really occurred that lead to such a final product.

First of all, Mr. Slipek refers to the fact that the new buildings do not have the architectural character and feel that the "grand old" buildings such as East End Middle School (AKA Onslow Minnis Middle School) or Thomas Jefferson High School or William Fox Elementary School have. This is absolutely true. The "grand old" buildings were designed by one man ... the same man who designed schools not only for the city of Richmond for more than 30 years but buildings at the University of Richmond. I have no doubt that these "grand old" buildings can still serve the needs of students, but they are not even close in meeting the current State Department of Education Standards for site size, classroom size, computers, etc.

As for the prototype used by Sverdrup, to be honest, it is not the best design one could have developed and used for an elementary school. This prototype was actually first designed for the suburban Dallas area, and then modified for the Richmond area. While Sverdrup has school experience in other parts of the country, these were the first schools they had designed in Virginia.

Any public building (actually any building) is built within something called a budget. This is damn important in the design and construction of a building. The budget was tight to start with (along with the time frame) to complete all three projects with an opening date for the first day of school, 1999 (which by the way is no easy trick). There are trade-offs, and as anybody knows from even renovating a bathroom or kitchen, you have to put some priorities first and decide what can be lived without.

All things considered, to have all three new elementary schools go up and running on-time should be hailed as a minor miracle, especially within the geopolitical environment of the city of Richmond. This "good news" as stated in Mr. Slipek's review is actually very good news indeed!

- Stephen Kadar Jr., Assoc. AIA, AICP, CSI

Gay thrift store in the works

I read with much interest the article about the closing of the Out of the Closet Thrift Shop (Street Talk, Oct. 26). In reality, the idea of a thrift store to benefit the gay community is not dead. A new organization, the Richmond Gay Community Foundation Inc., plans to open a thrift store next June. Proceeds from the thrift will be awarded to local organizations that will address the many problems faced by the gay male, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

By funding multiple organizations, the store will have a larger base of support from which to receive donated items and volunteers. Furthermore, the ROSMY Executive Director was correct when she stated in Style that they are "a social-service agency … not business, retail people." Because the major focus of our organization will be our thrift store, it is anticipated to grow and prosper for many years, as Los Angeles' Out of the Closet Thrift and Philadelphia's Thrift for AIDS have.

I was delighted to read in Style about the dramatic increase in donations and grants ROSMY has received. As its founder and former executive director, it is reassuring to know that the organization is growing and in good hands. I applaud ROSMY's board of directors, staff and volunteers for the work they are doing. Our new organization hopes to be as successful in running our business as ROSMY is in running its social-service agency.

Individuals who have items to donate or would like to learn more about RGCF may contact them at P.O. Box 14562, Richmond, Va. 23221, or by e-mail at RGCF@aol.com.

- Jon Klein, MSW, president
Richmond Gay Community Foundation

It's all about priorities

I am writing in response to "Pipe Dreams" (Cover Story, Nov. 2).

The article seemed only to present one side of a multifaceted story. Namely, there are very few theater organs left that are playable. Those that are playable cling to life only through the ministrations of a small yet devoted group of enthusiasts who volunteer their time and talents. I don't dispute these facts. What I don't understand is how the theater organ world seems to throw up its hands saying in essence that they have no idea how these instruments will be maintained after they are gone.

Yes, to be certain, there are fewer and fewer pipe organs around. This is due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which is monetary.

It all seems to boil down to priorities. Theater owners ought to feel a level of responsibility for the organs they own. These grand old organs shouldn't have to depend on volunteers to make repairs and keep the organs playing. These organs should be featured by these theaters. These theaters should pay to have skilled theater organists play these organs. It is as much a shame to see a grand old theater organ die an ignominious death as a church organ. I personally hate to see it, but it happens all the time, and only an educated public can help change these circumstances.

If there is anything that I can do to help prevent one more silent pipe organ, I would be glad to help professionally. I would also be glad to talk to anyone who wants to plan for the restoration and maintenance of these instruments. And I am sure there are any number of professional organ technicians who would be glad to do the same.

- Henry J. Brissette III
Capital Pipe Organ Associates

We're different from those Canadians, eh?

I was interested in the article, "Original Sin" (Back Page, Nov. 2) in which Travis Charbeneau discusses the destructive effect Americans' fear of centralized government had during the "Wild West". He contrasts it against Canada's orderly settlement of the western provinces during the same time.

Yes, the Canadian government and the Mounties kept the peace. They did so because their citizens believed central government was good. More than 100 years ago two men in Headly, British Columbia, Canada had a "Wild West" style shoot-out in the street. The local Mountie officer promptly hung the survivor because dueling was illegal. Death by gunshot remains far lower in Canada than in the United States.

The Americans of the 19th century praised rugged revolutionaries who took a gun and tools over the mountains to hew out a new independent life. The Canadians revered loyalists who left everything in the United States and relocated to stay under British rule.

Americans forged their country through war in 1776. Canadians formed their country through conferences in 1867. The transcontinental railroad that carried settlers in Canada was built on a federal promise to the province of British Columbia. American rail lines were built by commercial interests.

Canadian people were not the same as Americans. They had divergent roots and values which led to a positive view of central government.

- Kristen Hughes

So was Jefferson just a kook?

A few thoughts on the "Original Sin" essay: To answer Travis Charbeneau's assertion that our founding fathers suffered from a pathological paranoia of centralized power, I need only recite the names of the most tyrannous trinity of our own century: Hitler, Stalin and Mao. There are others I could add, of course.

The success of our nation has been built upon the wisdom and experience of our forefathers who were less power hungry than our leaders are today. This should give us pause before we dismiss their wise council.

I suppose, to Charbeneau, Jefferson was just a kook when he said "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

- Lee Carleton

Editor's note: Lee Carleton is also Back Page contributor.

Still a peon, but a peon with a view

Kudos to Mariane Matera for article "How to Tell if You Have a Real Job" (Back Page, Nov. 16)

This woman has obviously walked in my shoes and knows the pain and anguish of being "low (wo)man on the totem pole."

I often wondered how the college graduates I was working with and for couldn't figure out how to add paper to the copier or the fax, let alone create their own Rolodex card with important numbers rather than having to ask me a million times for the same information over and over again.

Don't even get me started on the throngs of people who would invade my desk space (since I wasn't important enough to have my own cubicle/office) in order to use MY pen, MY Post-Its, MY tape, and MY scissors. Didn't these professionals have office supplies of their own?

Over the years I've continued to move up the ladder. Each time I believe that I finally have come into my own, but for some reason I still haven't been able to shake the "peon" status.

However, to end on a good note, I am writing this letter to you from my office with a window with a view.

- Danna Ehrhart

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Style welcomes signed letters to the editor that include the writer's daytime telephone number. Letters are edited for clarity and space. Mail or deliver to 1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220. You can fax your letter to 355-9089 or e-mail it tobethbar@styleweekly.com. Please indicate letter to the editor in the topic field.

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