A fight is brewing.
Back when the Aycock Historic District was formed in 1983, (then) Aycock Middle School principal Jim Long advocated for the inclusion of the historic campus into the boundaries of the district that was ultimately named for the school, which is such a prominent feature of the neighborhood. He understood the protections that “historic” status would afford the 1922 structure.
As a result, Aycock Middle is the only Guilford County School (GCS) that falls under the jurisdiction of the historic district guidelines as administered by Greensboro’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Since Jim Long’s departure in the late ’80′s from his long-time leadership, the neighborhood and school have had their share of tiffs revolving around GCS’s on-again/off-again willingness to spend the money and design effort it sometimes takes to execute property improvements with adherence to the Guidelines.
In the past couple of years, however, the neighborhood has enjoyed good relationships and communications with the school under the excellent leadership of principal Valerie Atkins. This is probably due, in no small part, to the fact that the neighborhood has recently invested tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time in improving the campus.
Two years ago, with mostly its own money, the Aycock Neighborhood designed, purchased and installed new fencing around the entire campus to replace the historically inappropriate chain-link fence that had detracted from the campus for 30 years. In that same year, after obtaining a Neighborwoods Grant from Greensboro Beautiful, our ‘hood oversaw the placement and planting of over 100 new trees on the campus. We ‘Aycockians’ have long regarded the appearance of the Aycock buildings and campus as a point of pride. Neighbors regularly pick up blown trash from the lawns of the school as a matter of habit, just as if it were in their own front yards.
Due to great efforts on the part of Principal Atkins and her wonderful staff, Aycock has lately become an academic bright spot among the county’s middle schools. As other middle schools have become “low performing”, thus freeing their “district” students to seek out schools that actually educate kids, Aycock’s student body swelled by nearly 100 this year. However, there is not enough room for the newcomers in the old school’s “brick and mortar” classrooms.
GCS’s standard solution to such abrupt overcrowding is to wheel in “modular classrooms”, a.k.a. trailers. Problem is, there is no such thing as an historically appropriate “modular classroom”.
Following proper procedure for historic district properties, GCS has applied for a “Certificate of Appropriateness” to place three trailers on Aycock’s campus. (application here). But the opening photos provided in support of placing trailers in a historic district, where they should never even be considered, GCS’s application attempts to appease the guidelines by proposing a “possible alternate light fixture” instead of the standard issue fixture.
This “lipstick on a pig” gesture makes me think, perhaps, that GCS has no clue what they are up against.
The matter will be coming before the Historic District Commission this Wednesday. Meantime, the Aycock Neighborhood – who is no stranger to what needs to be done when threatening controversies arise – has been alerted and is mobilizing its considerable forces.
Speaking for myself only (I am on the Aycock Board of Directors), I see room for compromise.
The neighborhood is happy for the school’s success and applauds the reasons behind the abrupt need for expansion and wants what is best for our prominent neighbor. However, I can’t see any way that trailers – even ones with ‘historic’ light fixtures - can possibly be deemed “congruous” with the letter, much less the intent, of the Historic District Design Guidelines.
Allowing such a structure would be akin to me buying a shipping container and parking it my driveway for an indeterminate period of time with my only justification being that all of my children (and their stuff) decided to move back home. Wouldn’t happen for me, shouldn’t happen for GCS.
But still, I say bring the trailers on to solve the needs for the school, but with this caveat: the historically inappropriate trailers should be allowed to remain only as temporary structures.
I believe the neighborhood could support (and such matters are usually swayed largely towards what the neighborhood supports) a plan to install trailers for a strictly defined period of time. Say… two years. But such support would only be extended if/when there is a FULLY FUNDED PLAN to add permanent, appropriately designed, classrooms to the campus.
To accomplish this, the School Board will have to get involved pretty quickly and act definitively in order to appropriate the funds for actual ‘brick and mortar’ within the next couple of budget cycles. All of this is suggested with full knowledge that the average “temporary classroom” in Guilford County is anything but, and that money is in very short supply.
But, in the case of Aycock School, Guilford County Schools has the opportunity to accomplish the right thing by one of Greensboro’s architectural treasures, or accomplish nothing but alienating its neighbors.