Architect Greg Hall on appropriate rehabilitation of SHS

The interior of Sarasota High's Building 4. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

The interior of Sarasota High's Building 4. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

Sarasota architect Greg Hall is an expert in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings. He spoke recently with the Herald-Tribune about the Sarasota High School's Building No. 4, designed by 1958 by Paul Rudolph.

Q: You recently spoke publicly about the rehabilitation of the Paul Rudolph-designed building at Sarasota High. What did you say?

A: I was asked by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation board at the recent Dwight Holmes lecture to offer my opinion on the school district's rehabilitation plans for the Paul Rudolph's addition to Sarasota High School. Based solely upon the description of those plans provided by SAF board member Christopher Wilson, without the benefit of seeing any planning documents or hearing directly from the School District staff or their consultants, I offered the following commentary:

 "With the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, the Federal Government became a full partner and a leader in historic preservation. Policy, public support and technical programs for historic preservation were developed and administered through the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. Today, the Federal Government has codified the best practices for historic preservation in the form of a technical bulletin entitled, The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings. This document is used throughout the Country as a steering document by governmental bodies, institutions, and agencies at every level. Here in Sarasota, the Secretary's Standards, are used by the Sarasota County and City of Sarasota Historic, among others, as a resource tool for historic preservation projects."


The interior of Sarasota High's Building 4. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

The interior of Sarasota High's Building 4. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

"The Secretary's Standards are intended to provide guidance toward sensitive treatments to the owners of historic buildings, their managers, architects, contractors, and others charged with the stewardship of the important cultural property. The Secretary's Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our irreplaceable cultural resources. In their essence, the Secretary's Standards promote two simple concepts: 1) proper rehabilitation includes the retention and preservation of historic materials, and 2) a building's distinguishing character must be preserved. The essential historic character is quite easy to determine for some buildings and less obvious in others. To assist in this effort, the National Park Service prepared another technical bulletin titled "Preservation Brief no. 17 : Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings". This document recommends a three-step process that includes a broad overview followed by a detailed review of the building's exterior and interior spaces and elements."

 "The Sarasota Architectural Foundation conducted a review and prepared a report on the character-defining aspects of Paul Rudolph addition to Sarasota High School using the format promoted by Preservation Brief no. 17. This document is available to view at the SAF website. In this document, it is proposed that out of respect for the 'inside-outside' nature of the Rudolph buildings, the SHS interior spaces are equal in importance to the building's exterior massing and detail. Therefore, the School District's plan should include thoughtful integration of original interior spatial configuration and detailing into any respectful rehabilitation of the Paul Rudolph addition to Sarasota High School. The School District's current plan for the rehabilitation of the Rudolph Addition at Sarasota High, as described the the SAF Board, does not appear to meet the measure of appropriateness as defined by the federally established baseline standards."

shs bw 3

The locker room building is to be demolished, according to current plans. Photo / Harold Bubil.

" The School District has expended considerable effort toward their commitment to rehabilitate the Paul Rudolph-designed Sarasota High School addition. At the same time, they must still provide high-quality school houses that serve the twenty-first century educational need and provides a safe environment for our children to learn all within the limits of a tight construction budget. It should be recognized that these three goals are not completely coincident and negotiation between them will be the source of great effort. While their plan for the rehabilitation of the Sarasota High School Addition continues to develop, we encourage the School District and their architect to give consideration to the unique inside-outside nature of the building and ask them to try and arrive at a solution that honors that legacy. "

Q: Since making that statement, you have since had a chance to study the plans for the interior of the building. Has your viewpoint changed?

A: I am tempering what I said. Now that I have seen how big the box is and how big the pieces that have to be put in there, I realize there is really a very difficult challenge that confronts the preservation of this project, and it will be hard to overcome. The voice of the people, and the agreement of the school district based on the voice of the people, is to preserve the school and its outward appearance, including keeping the breezeways open. There was a proposal to put glass in there and maybe bring some of the administration out into that space.

The building's most recognizable feature is its hangling concrete sunshades. Photo by Harold Bubil.

The building's most recognizable feature is its hangling concrete sunshades. Photo by Harold Bubil.

But looking at the plans and understanding the program better, to do that forces them to shoehorn a lot of stuff into other areas of the building. There is not enough room on the two ends, in the wings, where they can put in second floors and create additional space, so the reason they have had to take out the light wells and the bridge (the "floating" second floor walkway) is those clasrooms have grown to accommodate the size classes they need to have. So basically they are trying to put too much stuff in that center portion.

I see that as a consequence of a prioritization of which elements to save. Is it more important to save the breezeway or more important to save the hallway? It comes down to that.

It is still a building that was designed with this inside-out, and that was virtue of that building -- the integration of the inside and out spaces. But I understand now how difficult that situation is for their architects (Harvard Jolly Architects). Could they do it? Possibly. It is going to be difficult, and I don't think anyone has said it is not going to be difficult, from any side. No one has ever said it is an easy thing, let's do it this way.


The smaller of the two breezeways, which will be kept open. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

The smaller of the two breezeways, which will be kept open. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

Q: How would you handle setting the priorities for the building?

A: Make a list of the things that are most important to save, and the things you can let go. Any preservation project is a series of compromises and you make the most compromises with the things that are least important. In this, the current direction is, the interior hallway space is less important than the breezeway. If we can save the breezeway without glass, it comes at the cost of being able to save the bridge -- the current configuration of the interior.

Q: Could a solution be to move a department out of that building?

A: That would certainly help.

Q: Local architects seem to have something to say about this project. Have they been shared with the school board of the design team?

The plan calls for redesigning the building to remove pipes, which are not original,  from the exterior. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

The plan calls for redesigning the building to remove pipes, which are not original, from the exterior. Staff photo / Harold Bubil.

A: If the school board or the construction department wanted to convene a small list of local, interested people who could meet and help to brainstorm, keep it concise because we are all on the clock here, I think there would be interest. I certainly would be willing to offer some time and some thoughts to help them see if there is a way forward.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: February 17, 2013
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.