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Rudolph-Designed School May Get a Second Chance

The Sarasota County School Board is reconsidering its earlier decision to demolish the Paul Rudolph-designed Riverview High School, in Sarasota, Florida. In a four-to-one vote on February 6, the board agreed to accept the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s offer to conduct a charrette concerning the school’s expansion plans.

The 49-year-old building is among the finest examples of the Sarasota School of Architecture, a local brand of climate-sensitive Modernism that counted Rudolph as well as Gene Leedy, Ralph Twitchell, and Victor Lundy among its practitioners. Its fate has been uncertain for the last few years while the school board has been evaluating various redevelopment schemes.

The school board’s current design team, headed by BMK Architects, originally proposed restoring the Rudolph structure in 2004. More recently, though, the board decided to raze it, citing cost, crowding, and security concerns; the board also said that the site was too small to accommodate any portion of Rudolph’s design alongside a new building. Accordingly, BMK received approval to begin construction drawings for a new facility that includes a parking lot in Riverview’s place. The building would begin construction in 2009 and deliver in 2013.

Sonya Delong, who founded the group Save Riverview, filed a nomination to include Riverview on the National Trust’s “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historical Sites” list for 2007. Further queries resulted in the National Trust’s offer to conduct a charrette with designers and relevant stakeholders, free of charge.

“The school can be rehabilitated and integrated into a newly built campus,” Delong contends.

A timeline for the National Trust involvement has yet to be determined—and a favorable outcome for preservationists is even less certain. Even if the charrette demonstrates that rehabilitation is possible, the school board can reject its recommendations.

“We won’t know the outcome until we get there,” Delong says.

David Sokol