Just get the schools built

You won't find argument here about whether Medford's Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools are historically significant.

The schools were constructed beginning nearly 100 years ago and very likely designed in part by noted Medford architect Frank Clark, whose work has been protected around the city.

The legitimate argument to be had, in our view, is whether that significance is reason enough to add new hurdles to the already cumbersome process of reconstructing the buildings for students. We don't believe it is. And we think the city's Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, which has inserted itself into the midst of this issue very late in the game, ought to reconsider its effort to place an official designation on the buildings.

Medford city officials were surprised by the commission's action and are reviewing it to see if it should be considered at a higher level than an historic commission. Given the impact that this delay will have on the district and students, the answer seems obvious.

Already, debate over the buildings has been bitter and divisive for just about everyone involved. Students who attended Jackson and Roosevelt are being bused to other schools after the buildings were suddenly closed because of structural problems in the spring.

Families in both attendance areas remained in limbo about the schools' future for much of the fall and winter until the school board, in the face of heavy pressure from the community, agreed in December it would rebuild them.

Now comes the historic commission. Although the success of its bid to place official historic designation on the buildings will be determined by the district, which can reject the proposal, the fact that the bid exists likely will delay the rebuilding process by 120 days, or about four months, sources say.

That means the plan to return students to the newly rebuilt structures in December 2009 in all likelihood won't happen, and students will start at the new schools in the fall of 2010, a school year later.

And that's providing the district determines reconstruction can continue. If the school district were to accept the historic designation, we cannot believe it would be able to rebuild the buildings for the $12 million or so it has budgeted for each school. Such designation would require that it have each change to the building reviewed by the historic commission.

Even without the designation, the district plans to preserve wings of the school believed to have been designed by Clark and built in 1949 (and deemed structurally sound). It is attempting to remake the buildings in the spirit of the original design, to help them blend into surrounding neighborhoods.

Maybe it could do even more by involving historic commission representatives as it finalizes plans.

But derail the process again? Delay students' return to the schools further? Maybe even cause the school board to back out of rebuilding plans another time?

Not acceptable.

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