Mariel Garza

Op Images: A new lease on life for old Marshall School

Marshall School in midtown sits locked up behind a chain-link fence.
Marshall School in midtown sits locked up behind a chain-link fence. mgarza@sacbee.com

For the past year, I have lived a block and half from Marshall School, a shuttered turn-of-the-century complex surrounded by a tall chain link at 27th and G streets in midtown Sacramento.

Abandoned school buildings generally ooze horror movie creepiness. Not old Marshall, even those occasional nights when I notice a random light on in the basement while walking the dog past its front entrance.

Maybe it’s the influence of the bunny that lives on the grounds and hops around in the twilight, nibbling on the clumps of weeds that grow in cracks and along the perimeter. Or the raccoons that like to hang out on the roof of the adjacent community building peering down with their spooky but kind bandit eyes.

But it is a true mystery to me, raising many questions. Such as, what kind of crazy people designed a school building to look like a mansion?

I attended California’s public schools circa 1970s and I can tell you none of them had any architectural flourish, wood or otherwise. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the company that built my middle school specialized in prisons.

Also, how could such an amazing building sit unused in midtown for so long? I imagined developers salivating over the possibilities for turning this 1903 beauty on 1.18 acres into high-end lofts. Such fabulous bones. And the parking is to die for.

The exterior of the building is still in pretty good condition. The paint is more or less its original color, all window panes seem intact and the walls are free of graffiti. It’s kind of a marvel considering it has been vacant for about five years and sitting in the middle of a city.

Either that chain link is sufficiently high to deter vandalism or people are unwilling to mar its faded beauty. Inside it is not as nice as it is outside, I’m told. This is a public school, after all.

It does have its charms: high ceilings, tall windows, a boiler that came from an abandoned merchant ship and elegant stairwells.

Old Marshall School is not likely to sit empty much longer. It is one of two historic school sites that Sacramento Unified School District trustee Jay Hansen, as new chairman of the Facilities Committee, would like to repurpose and reopen to benefit the community and district.

He and new Area 2 trustee Ellen Cochrane have teamed up to issue an RFI – a request for ideas – to the public for help figuring out the best use for the space. People can submit ideas online at www.scusd.edu/oldmarshall.

Folks should not get excited about enrolling their kids at a revamped Marshall School. The cost to meet modern school standards makes it highly unlikely the bell will ring in its halls again.

There are plenty of other possibilities, however.

Hansen imagines a mixed-use development that could include community space and homes, maybe apartments with a few units set aside as affordable housing for new teachers. He likes the idea of keeping the property in the district if possible and its revenue stream, rather than selling it.

It doesn’t cost the district much to keep Marshall, just light maintenance and utilities. But it’s a huge opportunity cost to keep what Hansen calls the “jewel of midtown” locked down tight like a school in a war zone.

Plus, I’m little concerned about the bunny. An owl perched in a palm tree just outside the fence the other night, ready for a meal.

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