Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Architecture and Athletics

At the special meeting of the Hudson City School District Board of Education on October 6, a new configuration for the addition to Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School was presented to the board. Instead of one long single-story building stretching out from the south side of the historic school building, the new plan would build on top of the existing "tech wing" and bring classrooms closer to the central building. The new configuration was judged to be "the best academic footprint for primary students," for whom the addition is intended, and it also, because of its size and scale, had a better chance of being compatible with the 1937 Colonial Revival building to which it would connect. 

On October 6, the board was considering two variations of a design for the newly configured addition: one had a flat roof on the foremost part of the addition; the other had a pitched roof and a profile that echoed the profile of the historic building and the 1997 addition.
The version with the flat roof was within the budget for the addition; the version with the historic profile was $250,000 more than the budget allowed. Torn between what was affordable and what would be compatible, Superintendent Maria Suttmeier worked with the architects to find a middle ground. What finally evolved was presented by Suttmeier at last night's school board meeting.

The new design, which according to the architects is in the "safe zone" as far as the budget is concerned, adds a pitched roof to the front of the addition, with walls that echo the historic profile on either side instead of in the front. The roof is pitched only at the front of the building; the roof behind it is flat.

This new design includes a crest along the ridge of the roof that repeats the crest on the historic building. While a tremendous improvement over both the original one-story design and the affordable design with the flat roof, the new design doesn't achieve the same height and scale as the unaffordable version and tends more toward imitation than compatibility, but it is what can be built within the budget.

The addition to Montgomery C. Smith is Phase 2 of HCSD's current capital project. Phase 1 is the new athletic field at Hudson High School, which has received far more attention from the community than the addition to a historic school building. When the school board was struggling to decide between natural turf and artificial turf for the playing field, parents and other community members came out in force to weigh in on the discussion. When it came to the track, people let it be known that what was planned was inadequate for track meets. What they wanted, after years of having an antiquated track, were track facilities that would allow Hudson to be the site of Patroon Conference meets.

The improvements to the athletic field requested by the community put Phase 1 $225,000 over budget--almost the same amount as the most desirable design would put Phase 2 over budget. Last night, Suttmeier reported success in securing the lion's share of that $225,000. After being turned down by Nike and the Dyson Foundation, she took her case to the Galvan Foundation. Accompanied by high school athletes Mike Alert, who distinguished himself last season in basketball and is doing so this season in football, and Noah Taylor, who excels in track, Suttmeier met with Eric Galloway. The students, whom Suttmeier praised for their demeanor and sincerity, made their case persuasively, speaking of what sports means to them. Galloway agreed to contribute $200,000 for Phase 1. 

Phase 2 of the capital project has not sparked the same level of public interest as Phase 1. Although there are grumblings about the new addition and fears that it will deface the hallowed eighty-year-old school building, during the lengthy design development process, few if any members of the public have shown up at school board meetings to engage with the project and express an opinion. The next school board meeting may be the last chance. A three-dimensional model of the proposed addition, in its latest configuration and design, will be presented at that meeting, which takes place on Monday, November 7, at 7 p.m., in the library of Montgomery C. Smith School.


  1. Well, I say Dr. Suttmeier should get Mssrs. Alert and Taylor and pay another visit on Mr. Galloway and explain the longlasting and beneficial impacts of preserving our architectural heritage.

  2. A friend wrote and said, "I hope you wrote this in jest. I hardly think funding $200,000 for usable space for our student athletes (and community) to use on nearly a daily basis is more valuable than asking for funding of a roof top with faux chimneys." And I wrote back, Of course, it was in gest. In fact, I was going to follow up with a reasoned statement saying something about why exactly it is appropriate to compare  the "$200,000 for usable space for our student athletes (and community) to use on nearly a daily basis" to "a roof top with faux chimneys" that will be seen by thousands, year in and year out for at least 40 years (we hope). That's just it, the community is ignorant about the value of architecture and historic preservation--you could argue that the whole economic revival of Hudson is based on roof tops and faux chimneys!  In some communities, in fact, it would be much easier to get those faux chimneys than the extra lanes on a track.  In any case, it's certainly not an either/or proposition; we certainly can -- and should -- appreciate the value of sports and that of architecture and the preservation of it. Superintendent Suttmeier has done a remarkable job so far trying to respect the value of our architectural past and the extra $200k would be a wonderful way to pay some respect to the citizen workers of the WPA who built that magnificent building in the depths of the Great Depression. Go Bluehawks.