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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 1 year ago

Pine View School fence changes architect's vision for campus design

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Alumnae and architect are shocked to discover that the Pine View School campus isn’t open anymore.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

After years of delays, Pine View School moved in 1994 to its first permanent home. 

Osprey was the new location; Carl Abbott was the architect. Following the example of Thomas Jefferson’s master plan for the University of Virginia, Abbott designed the new campus as an “Academical Village.” His U-shaped scheme wrapped around a central green space, which connected with a protected nature preserve at the borders of the campus. Those borders were deliberately unmarked — and unfenced — on all sides.

What was the purpose of the open layout?

The original design of the school was meant to create an open campus that allowed for free thinking. Courtesy photo

“Freedom,” says Abbott. “Freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom on every level. I designed the campus to encourage individual thought and development.”

In late August, the American Institute of Architects honored Abbott’s open design with its “Test of Time Award” for Florida and the Caribbean. The award recognizes the region’s structures of outstanding architectural design and enduring significance. According to the jury statement, “The project remains joyous and uplifting — full of light and color — creating a dynamic architectural experience whose clarity has endured.”

Ironically, while the AIA jury was extending the honor, contractors were installing a metal barrier around the Pine View campus.

Returning students were greeted by an iron fence around the property. The front entry: two metal doors revealing the campus inside through wire-mesh.

The formerly open campus was now a closed one.

It was part of the Sarasota County School District’s response to the Parkland school shootings. After the massacre, the district began a rapid upgrade of security measures across all of its 53 schools.

Pine View School was designed in a U shape. Courtesy image

Kelsey Whealy, the school district’s media relations specialist, says work on these upgrades is still underway — and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. 

“Our schools were built at different times, and offered different levels of security as a result,” she explains. “Some needed to install cameras, visitor ID systems and hardened perimeter fencing with a secure single point of entry ... They’re all currently secure, but we want to make them as secure as possible. We’re working school by school, and hoping to upgrade them all by the end of the year.” 

A sense of urgency drives the countywide construction project. Pine View’s makeover was part of a big-picture transformation across America’s public and private schools in light of recent tragedies. But the sight was shocking to many returning students and graduates.

Lillian Harris was one of them. She graduated in 2010 from Pine View and now lives and works in Huntsville, Ala. A few weeks ago, she was visiting her father and went by the school. The latest change made her heart sink.

“When I saw the gates, I was horrified,” she says. “Pine View has always encouraged its students to be free and open in their thought, activities and even dress. Creating an enclosed, jail-like environment is a step in the wrong direction.”

Architect Carl Abbott — Courtesy photo

A week ago, Harris was catching up with Pine View graduate Nathan J. Robinson in New Orleans when she showed him a photo of the fence. 

He was shocked as well.

“Pine View was always a magical place for us — a very free environment,” Robinson says. “When I saw those photos, I couldn’t believe it. Putting up iron bars totally changes the feel of the campus. Just seeing those bars was very disturbing to me.”

Robinson didn’t keep his feelings to himself. He shared them in an impassioned editorial in Current Affairs magazine.

That’s how the architect found out about it.

Carl Abbott's design includes a library with a great deal of natural light. Courtesy photo

“I had to sit down,” Abbott says. “This was a total violation and contradiction of the original concept. In a democracy, education is all about freedom. Opening yourself up to new ideas, new people, and new choices. That was the essence of Thomas Jefferson’s original vision for the University of Virginia. I tried to reflect that in my vision for the new Pine View campus. Now, in effect, they’ve put the kids in a prison. It defeats the whole purpose.”

The steely perimeter has a purpose, too. But Abbott, Robinson and Harris all question how effective it will be.

“This is public relations, not real security,” says Abbott. “Do we really want to herd our students through one or two control points? It makes them extremely vulnerable when they’re entering and leaving the school ... The gate is also utterly ineffective as to keeping a shooter out ... The real problem is troubled students with easy access to guns. This doesn’t deal with the underlying issue.”

Robinson agrees.

“Short of an outright total surveillance state, prevention is the only solution to our problems,” he says.

“We need to go back to the drawing board,” Harris says.

Pine View School graduate Lillian Harris took photos of the exterior out of frustration to show other graduates how the new fence has changed the school design. Photo by Lillian Harris

Stephen Covert, Pine View’s principal, expressed confidence in his school’s new security upgrades. In his view, it’s not a pretty picture, but it’s part of the big picture. 

“Pine View isn’t an island unto itself,” he says. “These upgrades are part of the comprehensive district plan. It was set in motion long before I arrived, though there’s obviously a far greater urgency in light of current events.”

What about the changes to the school’s character?

“For those on the interior of the campus, there are very few impacts at all,” Covert says. “Most of the changes are from the outside looking in. Aesthetics matter, but the safety and security of our students and teachers matter more. As educators, that’s our primary obligation. It’s the reality of the world we live in. It’s an unpleasant reality — but we still have to face it.”

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