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IMPROVEMENTS IN THE PLANS AND CONSTRUCTION OF PUBLIC
SCHOOL-HOUSES IN PAILADELPHIA.
LETTER FROM EDWARD SHIPPEN, ESQ., PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF
CONTROLLERS OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The large, older, and closely built cities of the United States suffer in compar. ison with their junior sisters in regard to their facilities for the placing of Schooledifices. In the new cities there is ample opportunity of obtaining space at moderate cost, and in convenient localities—not so however with the old. Schoolhouses should be fixed at centres of defined school-districts. In the old cities, this is impracticable, as in Philadelphia for instance, at least in the city proper. Consequently there has been built comparatively few School edifices for the public in the last ten years. At length it became essential, in order to supply the demand, that buildings of all conceivable plan, kind, and description, from the rope walk to the stable, from factory to the private residence, should be used for School purposes. The School Controllers eventually took a determined stand, and claimed at the hands of the City Councils that the children of their constituency bad a right to be lodged six hours a day in healthy and convenient School-houses, that they had a right to the pure air and sunlight which Providence accords to all mankind free of cost, and that if the mind was wor. thy of cultivation and preservation, the body was equally so. The Controllers claimed that one million of dollars was needed for building purposes alone, and that so much more was required as would command lots for the new edifices. The claim was heeded, the million dollars accorded, and several hundred thousand dollars more expended in the purchase of lots, in most cases not large enough, but as large as could be had, save at exorbitant cost.
Thus armed and equipped, the Controllers determined that the new Schools should be erected upon the most approved modern models; that they should embrace all points of utility, and should avoid all those which had been tried and had failed. To accomplish this desirable end, their Committee closely examined the edifices of Boston, Providence, Worcester, Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Columbus, and other cities. In these examinations, much attention was given to details, and it may be fairly presumed that all the modern improvements and appliances have been studied, adopted, or rejected, and that the new structures will have much to commend them to those who seek information upon the subject of School Architecture.
The Report of the Philadelphia School Board of 1867 gives seventeen well executed wood-cuts of elevations and plans now in process of erection. It was wisely decided that among other points should be attentively regarded the following features:
Proper economy, not parsimony.
That while the School-house should present to the public eye a neat architectural design, all useless ornamentation, internal and external, should be avoided, and most of all that the “confectionery” as well as the millinery of architecture should be dispensed with as useless. costly, and out of taste.
That the School structures should be erected with a view to durability, and the avoidance as far as possible of repair.
That whenever the location permitted, the building should stand alone, for convenience, for light, and for ventilation.
That the best and most economical mode of heating and ventilation should be adopted.
That all buildings should have, when the size and location of lot admitted, light to each room from two exterior sides.
That staircases of easy ascent should be located in different parts of the building, and ample means of ingress and egress should be afforded, so that in case of sudden alarm a whole School might be cleared instantly of its inmates without confusion or danger.
That each class-room should have accommodation for hats and cloaks conveniently located.
That each class-room should be able to dismiss directly into the hall or stairways.
That the hardware for School buildings should be suitable for constant and unusual use; and that in all other particulars, regard should be had to utility, economy, convenience, and appearances.
The mode of obtaining plans in Philadelphia for buildings was changed so as to permit those who are most familiar with the wants and requirements of the Schools, to obtain them without being obliged to advertise for competition. The practical result of the old system had proven most unfortunate, for, as a rule, the ablest and most experienced architects were averse to competition, and were un ling to spend their talent, time, labor, and money upon plans, at the risk of rejection; the effect therefore of the advertising system was to deprive the city of the services of very many architects of acknowledged ability, and to narrow down the competition to a very limited number.
The various Boards of School Directors have been consulted by the Committee on Property, in respect to the wants of their respective Schools, and, as a general rule, it is believed without exception, the plans adopted for new School-houses have met with the approbation of the Directors.
The Committee on Property gained many useful hints and suggestions with respect to School-houses, on their visits to Boston, Cambridge, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus; and it is believed that our edifices, when finished, will equal any in the country in their adaptation to School purposes; that they will be a credit and ornament to our city; and that they will, by reason of the care taken in the matters of warming, light, and ventilation, preserve the health of our children, many of whom have in the past been stored in factories, churches, and dwellings rented for educational purposes.
It seems to be the opinion of teachers, as well as of all who have the care and supervision of Schools in cities, that no School edifice is complete unless it contains a large hall, capable of accommodating at one time all the pupils of the School; that every room should be well lighted, and that, when practicable, direct light should come into every room from two sides, and the room should have also whatever of "borrowed light” it can command; that each Schoolhouse should be so ordered that every room may have its separate means of ingress and egress; that stairway facilities should be numerous; that each division should have its clothes-room conv
onveniently located; and above all that ventilation, in winter and summer, should be so ordered as to keep the atmosphere constantly changing by the expulsion of the foul air, and the continuous introduction of pure air from without, avoiding perceptible currents.
With respect to the hall accommodations above referred to, it is scarcely necessary to say that when space is expressly devoted to that purpose, and to that alone, the cost of the building is correspondingly increased.
On the contrary, if a number of class-rooms can at any time be converted into a large hall or room, the desired end is better attained.
The plans which will be found in the Report explain how this may be accomplished by means of glass partitions hung on pulleys or wheels at the top, and which with a slight impulse may be almost poiselessly rolled into the casements on the sides; one advantage of this principle over a special assembling room, besides the matter of cost, is, that any number of class-rooms in which scholars are assembled may be suddenly converted into a large room, without the vacating of seats, and without the noise or the loss of time caused by moving; and that, instantly after any general exercise, in which a whole School may join, as in singing, or in the opening or closing exercises, the partitions may be closed, the classes all being seated. Each story may be thus arranged
When public buildings are by law given to the lowest bidder upon advertisement, and to be erected on the contract system upon plans and specifications, the door is open wide to fraud upon the public; as a rule, the competition is with very few, and they frequently irresponsible and unreliable builders, who seek to make pecuniary amends for low bids by slighting their work, and furnishing unsuitable material, in the hope of bringing sympathy to their aid, under various pretexts and pleas, when discovery is made or complaint uttered; and too often with success, to the public detriment. Security it is true may be demanded; this, though wise, is not enough, for the sympathy which relieves the contractor also relieves the security; nor is there any way to secure entire justice to the public on the general competitive advertising plan. In Philadelphia, the Committee upon Property of the Controllers of Public Schools have done much to guard the public interests by requiring large and reliable security, by holding the contractor fast by reservations of large, unusual, and ample powers—by requiring incessant watchfulness of the supervising architects—by the appointment of an Inspector of School buildings, whose duty it is to be on constant visitation, watching the progress of each building, and reporting weekly to the Committee. Besides these checks and guards, the Committee itself pay frequent visits.
While due regard seems to be paid to public interests, the Committee in like manner seems to look to fair dealing between the contractor and material man and his sub-contractors. By law, Public buildings are not the subjects of mechanics' lien, and ordinarily it would be possible for an irresponsible contractor to bid low, complete his contract, pocket the price, and by leaving material and labor unpaid for, make large gains himself, and throw the poor laborer and mechanic upon the mercy of a merciless man. To remedy this evil as far as practicable, the Committee has provided for a release of claim by the material man and mechanic before final payment is made; and it has proven by actual experience of great advantage to public and private interests. The form of the building contract is hereto annexed, and is commended to those who have the responsibility of erecting public buildings cast upon them.