Schools must be part of downtown revival

In 2010, the California state architect and engineer examined Old Marshall School and stated it could be reused as a school.
In 2010, the California state architect and engineer examined Old Marshall School and stated it could be reused as a school. Sacramento Bee file

A new arena, bars, restaurants and thousands of housing units are being planned or are in the works for Sacramento’s downtown core.

What’s missing? Schools.

In the years after World War II, white flight from Sacramento’s core to the suburbs left the central city’s schools neglected. Some were sold.

In the 1970s and 1980s, after the short-sighted demolition of the Alhambra Theater, urban pioneers began arriving, only to face the perception that the only people who should live in the central city were the homeless, mentally ill, minorities and college students, not families.

It was not until the 1990s that the first grade school opened in the central city, the California Montessori Grade School, since relocated to College Greens. As recently as 2002, a school board member told me that the central city has no children and that there is no need for downtown schools.

The 1950s formula for creation of new schools based on new suburban tract housing remains in school district planning documents, despite the city of Sacramento’s 2010 Master Plan which contemplates that by 2030, 90,000 people will be living in the central city.

I’m a parent of two public school kids who lives in midtown and cares deeply about its future. In emails, I asked Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jose Banda and school board members Jay Hansen and Ellen Cochrane whether the district would seek to serve the growing central city populations. Only Hansen and Cochrane responded by saying, “Yes.”

In 2009, the district relocated the California Montessori school from midtown to College Greens. After much prodding, the district is bringing back a grade school back to midtown.

Hansen and Cochrane also have taken on the task to focus on the abandoned Old Marshall and Washington schools.

Let’s hope they don’t repeat the Newton Booth School incident. Newton was a grade school at 28th and V streets in midtown. The district sold it 20-plus years ago for pennies on the dollar. Today, it houses Merryhill, a private grade school.

This year, the district leased Fremont to artists. Now what to do with Old Marshall School?

Only a construction fence has saved Marshall from vandals. In 2010, the California state architect and engineer examined the Marshall School and stated it could be reutilized as a school.

Should the district sell Marshall, lease it, or invest in updating the building and bring it back as a school? Will the district repeat the mistakes of Newton Booth School?

At a third the cost of building a new school, Marshall would be a good future investment. It’s a major historic landmark and deserves to be safely brought back to life.

Vito Sgromo is a historian and midtown activist.