As with the “Save the Merc!” debacle, the proposed demolition and the replacement’s design are eliciting some uproarious resistance.
“Please don’t saddle the neighborhood with this modern monstrosity,” wrote Janene Caywood in a public comment to the city Board of Adjustment. Neighbor Wes Delano questioned whether an alternative high school really needs a campus “that would make MIT jealous.”
“This is not rocket science!” declared Pam Schiemer, another neighbor.
At this stage in the process—construction is slated to begin in September—allaying all the emergent concerns might actually be rocket science. The district’s plan is to construct the new school on the current campus. Neighbors first complained last spring that the new building and parking lot will encroach on a green space known as Sunset Memorial Park. Now they’re upset to learn that the old building will be torn down, not repurposed. If the old building were repurposed, the new school would have to encroach even farther into the park.
Neighbors say it’s a terrible time to be having this debate, and they’re right. Only recently did the district decide to demolish the old building—more than a year after voters approved the $70 million high school bond. The ballot language stipulated only that a “new” Willard would be constructed either on land across from Sentinel High School or “other appropriate” district-owned land.
Demolition of historic schools is unpopular, and in places such as Helena, proposing demolition has proved a death sentence for bond measures. Recall, too, that the MCPS bond passed by just 182 votes out of nearly 28,000 cast. Did MCPS obscure its intentions for the sake of passing the bond?
District communications director Hatton Littman insists not.
Regardless, the district could have been more upfront about the future of the site, and reached out sooner to neighbors. Not all of the neighbors’ objections sound reasonable, but they certainly have reasons to object.