Blodgett School

The Post-Standard writes on the fate of the run-down Blodgett School on the West Side. My mom tells me that her aunt (who was only just a few years older than her) went to Blodgett School in the early ’50s or so, when it was even back then deemed a “scary old” school “full of juvenile delinquents.” My grandmother did not want her kids to go to such schools, so a couple years later she packed up the family and followed her other relatives out of the city. And that’s how they became suburbanites.

So, this school’s needs have been ignored for over 50 years. How sad is that?

11 thoughts on “Blodgett School

  1. Phil

    Somehow NYCO, it’s comforting to find out tha your grandmother faced this kind of official disregard for the near west side, its people and its institutions. That said discrimination is more a function of class-based hatred, rather than xenophobic hatred of people with different skin tones, speaking different languages. Of course, maybe I’m wrong. The Polish and the Irish were once stigmatized groups as well.

    As for the school, it’s not about buildings. It’s about teachers and students. Build a new school at half the cost and invest in teachers.

    OK, Sean here’s where you talk about the 24 second clock–but does history have to be the study of piles of crumbling bricks? Call the new school Danny Biasone Elementary and move the freaking 24 second clock memorial where it belongs. Get the NBA to kick in some dough.

  2. Josh S

    A pattern has emerged over the past generation or so.

    Build a unique structure, neglect it, argue it is more expensive to renovate than to repair, knock it down, hope for the best that something other than a lot of grass and trash will replace it.

    It’s not about buildings but it is about developing a true cost and comparison about demolition and new construction versus deconstruction versus renovation.

    Destroying buildings isn’t much different than destroying local communities, as we’ve seen in the past 50 years locally.

    And most of the new buildings that we construct are worse than what we built 100 years ago. New buildings are no less full of toxins than our older buildings are. In some cases, the newer stuff is more toxic.

    It’s not that simple, but there is a right answer, if we put some good thought into it.

  3. Robinia

    Yes, Josh S., there is a good answer: maintainance. Bridges, buildings, roads, communities. We should do it. We don’t. We are poorer because of that, in built environment, in good jobs and pride of workmanship, and in pride in our communities.

  4. sean

    robinia – boom. that’s it. you call it maintenance, and i call it stamina. we’re big on press conferences and amazing projects, then when they’re built we can’t scrub the bathrooms or cut the grass, which is really where the commitment comes in.

    phil – someone should be on the phone to the nba now. $50 million to them? that’s the stuff we jangle in our pockets. that’s a year’s salary for some of their players. my feeling on old buildings, though, is tied as much to practicality as sentiment: there was a school in niagara falls, the niagara street school, that was of the roberts-delaware-seymour red-brick ilk. they tore it down recently, claiming restoration was too expensive, and then built this horrid, cheap peace of crap in its place that involved overruns way beyond anticipated costs. look at our history of new schools in syracuse, which has brought us such ‘gems’ as the dreary, soul-killing clary, corcoran, fowler or shea buildings … give me elmwood above them any day of the week.

    i got a call today from a city official whose take i’ll get on my blog in the morning. this particular official, nameless for now, questions the pargmatic need for a school where blodgett is at all … another avenue for debate.


  5. Josh S

    Robinia…absolutely, yes! Maintenance is definitely the answer, but maybe 50 years ago. But when those before us have failed to maintain and repair, a building’s need goes beyond maintenance to repair and restoration.

    Have you read Stuart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn? His chapter on maintenance is fantastic.

    As Sean says, maintenance is stamina. It is also Stewardship, both ecological and cultural. When we fail to preserve what our ancestors devoted themselves to building, and instead take it down and build mostly crap, the environmental and ecological costs far outweigh any isolated price analysis.

    And Sean, you’re right about the new stuff being built, most of it anyway. If you examine almost any of the homes on the Near West Side, it is the original structure that is in the best shape. The most recent additions are invariably ready to fall down. That says something about both the skills and intentions of builders 100 years ago, and those today.

  6. Josh S

    and about the issue of whether a school is needed there or not, i’d hate to read a headline 10 years from now saying, “as families flow back into Syracuse, new schools and other infrastructure needed”.

    let’s think ahead more than a year or five about this. what might that neighborhood need in 10 years, 20, 50?

    either way, one basis of the entire near west side revitalization is (was?) the renovation of 100 or so homes around the horseshoe of blodgett, using the school as a driver for community development (free after hours meeting space, community gardening, education, etc.).

    if blodgett goes, there will be no new school there for at least 10 years, i bet. how many times has this same thing happened, and how many times does it have to happen, before we realize it is a pattern. we demolish before we have the funds or resources to rebuild. and we demolish the best of what our ancestors built… always portrays this most powerfully.

    and if blodgett goes, the neighborhood, the real neighborhood, not the arts, technology and jazzy design vision that SU has for it, probably goes too.

    just one outsider’s view.

  7. KAZ

    Sorry, Phil–a new school will cost even more. Most of the schools in NYS are over 50 years old, and a surprising percentage are approaching that 100-year anniversary. When we’re being kind, we call them “historic.” Mostly, they’re just decrepit. Historic slate roofs leak constantly. Historic brick walls can’t handle high speed Internet wiring.

    School districts with a little bit of financial know-how are starting to use maintenance reserves to keep up with the decay, but it’s tough when you’re trying to pay both for bricks and mortar and for building blocks of knowledge and potential mortarboards. It’s a constant battle in our district and probably in most.

    And while I believe that “it’s about teachers and students” in the long run, I do think the physical environment contributes to or detracts from teaching and learning.

  8. Ellen

    “What populations remain in urban centers [after a society’s collapse] reuse architecture in a characteristic manner. There is little new construction, and that which is attempted concentrates on adapting existing buildings. Great rooms will be subdivided, flimsy facades built, and public space will be converted to private. While some attempt may be made to carry on an attenuated version of previous ceremonialism, the former monuments are allowed to fall into decay… When a building begins to collapse, the residents simply move to another…”

    –Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

    Certainly we cannot blame the current users of the building (the children) – rather, it’s our power positions (politicians, community leaders, and other local Big Giant Heads) who are the “interlopers” here, in the sense that they have lost continuity with the “Old Ones” who built these structures. I see the “attenuated version of previous ceremonialism” as being embodied in a lot of the talk about reviving Downtown which takes the form of stuff like creating apartments out of old office buildings and warehouses (i.e., “public space converted to private“)… while at the same time a grand old school like Blodgett is not part of the plan.

    At least, not as a school. But I think the current collapse of our very complex economy (which is eventually going to make American society less complex) will preclude any thought of developing Blodgett into apartments for the Creative Class. For now anyway. You may see apartments in Blodgett one day, but of course, those schoolkids will be long scattered and gone.

    Or, in the future, there may be a return of population to the Syracuse area… I do not think that is a crazy vision at all. In which case you might see Blodgett turned into jerry-built apartments (as opposed to luxury ones designed by architects), or a jerry-built school with subdivided rooms. But I’m sorry to say it seems highly unlikely to me that Blodgett will ever be a grand and properly restored school. Maybe I’m wrong. It is very important to restore order into these kids’ lives… as far as working on Blodgett can feasibly provide that… but it is best to focus on all the ways to restore order, even if means creating a new order.

  9. Jon S.

    Eight years ago SCSD re-opened Blodgett to alleviate overcrowding at Seymour, Delaware and Frazier. Nobody cared then that Blodgett was in terrible shape. The library, if you could call it that, had a few outdated, torn books and broken furniture. The auditorium was condemned. The furnace was held together with duct tape. The playground was littered with broken glass and who knows what else. On and on. Out of convenience, SCSD deemed it “good enough” for the area’s children.

    Along came a group of concerned citizens who put private and public resources together to give those kids a state-of-the-art library. It was a $700k project brought in for just over half that amount. Verizon kicked in a large contribution and James Earl Jones came on a hot July day in 2001 to dedicate the library. A seed had been planted, even though some said it didn’t make sense to put the best public school library in the district in the worst school. But the students and faculty responded. Test scores went up, thanks in part to the library and a tutoring/mentoring program. Blodgett even got off the State watch list. Time and again we heard elected officials and schools chancellors commit to Blodgett’s renovation. “First on the list” we were told time and again, even as money went to other schools, some equally in need, some not.

    Today, the playground has been renovated, the gymnasium is functioning and more importantly, the school has a heart and soul that has been nurtured by many caring individuals. Even Skiddy Park, across Oswego St, has been cleaned up. There was a sense of hope in the building, and in the community.

    That is, until now. Now the school that no one cared about is an embarassment to the District and should be closed immediately, at least according to Syracuse Common Councilor Pat Hogan, having just toured Blodgett for the first time. Yet when he was invited to participate in a campaign rally on the very streets surrounding Blodgett in 2005, the first year he ran for Council, Hogan was nowhere to be found.

    And maybe Hogan is right … Blodgett is no place for our youngest and neediest students to get an education that might help them break the poverty cycle. But the solution, to close it, disperse the students and take away the most vibrant entity in the immediate area would spell a return to the abyss for the neighborhood, just when in-fill housing, United Way and Habitat for Humanity’s efforts to restore the neighborhood are making a difference.

    And this is what Hogan, the JSCB and many other so-called leaders in this community don’t understand. The right answers aren’t always the most expedient or easiest to implement. True genius is in finding the “second” right answer. Ask any Blodgett student … they’ll tell ya!

  10. sean

    any thoughts on this?

    this was inspired saturday, when i was at danforth middle school for the oratorical competition, and i just thought about that school’s incredible history, and the whole bone-deep sense of security inside it, and we watched the kids speak in the classic auditorium – and i thought how irreplaceable the place where really is – much, despite all its flaws, like blodgett.


  11. Josh S

    That’s a fantastic idea! And another poster there has another great idea too…Blodgett becomes a center of workforce development, training, and education for the community.

    I agree completely with your observations of Fowler. This is really one of those rare win-win-win ideas.

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