Has Woodrow Wilson High School Aged Better Than Adamson, Or Does it Just Have a Heckuva Lot More White Kids?

adamson.jpg
Sara Kerens
Adamson High School in Oak Cliff, where less than 1 percent of the students are white.
Jon Dahlander, spokesman for the Dallas Independent School District, posted a comment on Unfair Park today that perfectly expressed the school system's official position on the preservation/demolition of Adamson High School. It blames abandonment of the school on the people who have been fighting to preserve it. And then it says the school system is going to preserve Adamson.

Dahlander's spin was in response to my column of last week, "Adamson High School Alums Are Fighting DISD to Preserve the School Building and Their Bond With Its Students" (I don't write my own headlines anymore). More immediately, it was in response to an item on Unfair Park yesterday reporting that Mike Rhyner over at The Ticket was talking about the column.

Dahlander's lengthy comment made several key points. The first is that Jim Schutze gave a false impression: There are no plans to tear down Adamson.

The second point: "The current campus will remain standing and will be re-purposed."

Third: "There has been structural movement under the existing building since it was initially constructed in 1915. Several attempts have been made to mitigate this but the soil continues to cause shifting."

Fourth: The district hired Corgan Associates, described by Dahlander as "noted historical architects," and Corgan came up with two ideas. One was to preserve only the front wall of the school and tear everything else down. The second was to tear everything down and rebuild a new school that would be a mirror image of the old school, using some of the original bricks.

Then Dahlander said the alumni, who have been fighting to save the school, turned down the mirror-image idea: That, he said, tied the district's hands. Corgan had already said its first idea -- save the front wall only -- was no good because the front wall might fall down while they were working on it and kill some construction workers (so thanks a lot for that idea, Corgan).

Since the alums had nixed the mirror-image idea, DISD had no choice, according to Dahlander, but to abandon the building (which is what I said they were doing in my column. I never said they were demolishing it, even though abandoning will amount over time to the same thing).

So let's see if we can possibly find our way back to any semblance of what's true in all this. First of all, Corgan. Saving the front wall was just a plain stupid idea. Corgan knew that. That's why, right after they suggested it, they said it probably shouldn't be done. Because it's stupid.

The "mirror-image" thing is not preservation. It's Disney. No one who knows anything about preservation would take that idea seriously. That Corgan would have presented this as a preservation strategy should tell people all they need to know about Corgan and preservation. I tried to reach Corgan for my column and never heard from them, by the way.

The story about the soil moving beneath the school is flat-out, deliberate deception. This gets to the engineering report that DISD tried to deep-six. A report commissioned by the school district found that there had been slight non-load-bearing movement in a couple of places over a period of decades, probably because of plugged drains. Dahlander is trying to paint a picture of a building that can't be saved because of the soil beneath it. He knows full well that the movement he describes can be stopped by unplugging the drains.

This brings us to the "re-purposing" of the building. Dahlander says it's going to be some kind of "youth and family center" clinic. Did you know the district had extra money around for community centers and clinics? Did you know the district was in the community center clinic business?

But let me ask you this: If the school is unsuitable to be used as a high school, why does the district think it can be "re-purposed" as a community center? I told Dahlander when we spoke about this that his story had one central flaw: If you can save the building to be a "youth and family center," why can't you save it to be a high school?

I told him on the phone: "I still don't hear the why. If the building is still sound, if it's still going to be used anyway, what is the why (for abandoning it as a school)?"

"That building is what, 100 years old?" he said. "The size of the classrooms are ... have you been down on the basement floor to see the size of the classrooms?"

"Yes."

"They are very small. We need a facility that is going to be modern, that is going to set up the students of that community so they have a positive learning environment for the next 100 years. That building is out of date. When it comes down to it, it is out of date for a school. It can certainly be used for other purposes, but the bottom line is, it's out of date for a school."

I said, "Then an old building is not a positive learning environment?"

"I wouldn't say that," he said, "because you've got, as you know, Woodrow Wilson High School, but Adamson is different."

I asked, "How is different? It's the same era, the same architecture."

"I don't know if it's the same architecture," he said.

"Well, I guess Woodrow better start looking over its shoulder," I said.

"No, I think Woodrow has aged a little better than Adamson has."

OK, speaking to you now, Dear Reader, let me tell you something. My kid went to Woodrow. It's a wonderful school. But most of the bathrooms were out of order most of the time. The place stank from a leaky grease trap. DISD couldn't even keep the ceiling tiles from falling on kids' heads. And I have been in Adamson, too. Woodrow has not aged better. DISD hasn't kept either one up because DISD doesn't keep things up. It tears them down and builds new.

There is also a subtle weird racism in all of this, which the alums, who are mainly white, have pointed out to me. There is an idea that tradition and preservation -- history itself -- are white people things. Sure, Woodrow should be preserved because that's the school the white people in Lakewood care about.

But immigrant kids don't need or deserve tradition. They deserve a bank slate because they are blank slates.

The really cool, profoundly inspiring thing about the Adamson alumni is that they have discovered, a little by accident, this profound bond with the immigrant kids who now occupy what was once their school. These kids are from hard-working, upwardly mobile families, which is what the alums came from in the '50s and '60s, only with white faces.

They want to give their tradition to the immigrant kids as a kind of cultural bequest. And they have made wonderful heart-warming inroads.

The school system, meanwhile, functions as a milk cow for builders and contractors who control the school board. All they want to do is build new stuff and make money. That's why they have lied to the alumni, hidden documents from them and now, in Mr. Dahlander's comments, tried to paint the alums as the villains responsible for the abandonment of the school.

The school system looks at this wonderful flowering of community and human connection springing from one of its own schools, and it sees nothing. Nothing.

They spent 10 million dollars on Adamson in the previous bond campaign. They are now going to walk on that investment. The community/clinic thing is a ruse. I believe the building can still be a school, but even I don't believe they can "re-purpose" it as a hospital.

They just want out of it. They want to close the doors and walk. They want to spend money on a new building. And then they will say they just found out the old one can't be a hospital after all.

So it will become Crozier Tech -- another depressing monument to cynicism and self-dealing. The immigrant kids will go to school in a white-bread generic tin and brick barn indistinguishable from airport terminals and big box stores. And Dahlander will retire.

One word for this pattern of behavior, the only one I can think of at the moment, is dishonorable. I think there's another word, though. It's on the tip of my tongue. What is it? Oh, yeah.

I better not tell that one. My wife went to Adamson. I'll get in trouble. Let's stick with dishonorable.

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