Preserving Pennsylania: A Journey Through the Last 20 Years, Part 14

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

Roosevelt Middle School’s most distinctive design element is its series of tile motifs located behind its eight water fountains, which depict notable scenes from the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.


2007 — Roosevelt Middle School, Erie County

Roosevelt Middle School, Erie County

Erie’s Theodore Roosevelt Middle School opened to students in 1922 featuring 17 classrooms in addition to science laboratories, workshops, home economics rooms, a gymnasium, a library and an auditorium. Linoleum was used in the school’s hallways, rather than the more traditional wooden floor. Roosevelt Middle School’s most distinctive design element is its series of tile motifs located behind its eight water fountains, which depict notable scenes from the life of President Theodore Roosevelt. Due to maintenance and safety concerns, Roosevelt Middle School was closed in June 2007. Students now use part of the school district’s Central High School. Demolition of the school had been proposed by December 2007. Beginning in 2008, Preservation Pennsylvania worked with a number of local advocates who wanted to save the school, preferably for continued educational use. In the months that followed, experienced architects from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Erie toured Roosevelt Middle School, reviewed the school’s architectural plans and studied educational specifications provided by the School District. Based on what they knew about the existing building and the district’s needs, each architectural team designed a potential solution to renovate and enlarge the Roosevelt Middle School. These plans were then presented to the Erie City School District. Faced with financial problems, despite the fact that all three architects believed that the school was an excellent candidate for continued use as a school, the district did not act on any of these recommendations to renovate the historic school.

The building remains vacant today. The Erie School District recently hired an architect to conduct an assessment of all of the active schools in the district, as an important step in planning how they will use their facilities moving forward. Roosevelt Middle School was not included in the list of buildings that the district is considering as part of this study, indicating that they do not plan to use it in the future. Since they do not plan to use it themselves, advocates for preservation of the school are now working to try to find a new use for the building as an alternative to demolition. Currently, the historic Roosevelt Middle School is being considered for use as a charter school for at-risk students, including residential dormitories.