NORFOLK SCHOOL BOARD PROPOSES THE DEMOLITION OF MAURY HIGH SCHOOL

At GNL’s October 19 meeting, Norfolk School Board Chair Dr. Noelle Gabriel shared an update on the School Board’s plans for the future of Maury High School. The GNL Board and other members present were alarmed to hear that the School Board’s preference is to demolish Maury and replace it with a new building. The School Board plans for a vote on the matter before the end of this year.

While the School Board’s criteria for choosing an architectural consultant indicated that equal consideration would be made for renovation and replacement options, the selected firm appears to have strong experience in the design of new schools but little experience in renovation work. The Board was taken to visit four model schools in Virginia – all new buildings, and no visits were made to examples of renovated buildings.

While the School Board’s study process has been ongoing since 2018, there has been limited engagement of stakeholders, including no direct outreach to any of the civic leagues that are within the Maury district. The October presentation to the GNL was the first information presented to the neighborhood that is home to the school.

The School Board report contends that Maury is an “old” building, suggesting that old buildings are obsolete and should be replaced. This would be a curious argument to make at the University of Virginia, whose historic core is twice the age of Maury and still serving its original function. At the College of William and Mary, the revered Wren Building is about three times the age of Maury.

About ten years ago, the Governor’s School for the Arts was successfully relocated to a 100 year-old renovated building on Granby Street that was in considerably worse condition than Maury. This project made use of Historic Tax Credits, a powerful financial tool that is also available for renovation work at Maury. The School Board’s rejection of this option seems to be based both on an inaccurate estimated value of these tax credits and misunderstanding of the associated timeline.

As a city vulnerable to the effects of climate change and sea level rise, Norfolk has been progressive in recognizing the problems and identifying and implementing sustainable solutions. It is commonly stated that “the greenest (most sustainable) building is the one that’s already built.” Today’s design professionals are calculating the negative carbon impacts related to new construction, which are always considerable. There is no better example of sustainability than to renovate an existing structure rather than build a new one.

One of the stated missions of the Ghent Neighborhood League is to advocate for the preservation of our historic neighborhood. Shortly after its opening in 1910, The Virginian Pilot called Maury High School “one of the finest buildings in the entire South.” While perhaps a slight exaggeration stemming from local pride, Maury is unquestionably one of the finest buildings in Norfolk. Like the Norfolk School Board, the Ghent Neighborhood League firmly believes in creating the best possible future for our students, teachers, and administrators. However, we also believe this can be achieved through thoughtful renovations and additions to the existing school and suggest that the primary focus of the School Board should be on how to preserve and reuse Maury for future generations.

For more information on this topic and to share your opinions, please email the GNL at admin@ghentneighborhoodleague.org. The time to act is NOW — before it’s too late!

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