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Steel shutters on Roosevelt's ground level doors and windows keeps vandals out

More eyeballs on Gary Roosevelt, more chances for preservation

Contributed By: The 411 News

School named to National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered List

At least one of Gary’s empty school buildings is not scarred by vandals and graffiti, and won’t be headed for the wrecking ball.

Wednesday morning, the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt High School was set up with a podium and microphone. A crowd had gathered to hear an announcement from Eunice Trotter, Director, Indiana Landmarks Black Heritage Preservation Program.

“I’m here today to announce that Gary Theodore Roosevelt High School has been designated one of the 11 most endangered sites in the nation by the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” Trotter said. “Theodore Roosevelt is in jeopardy and we cannot lose this treasure. Shining a national spotlight on the importance of Gary Roosevelt and its significance gives us hope for its future.”

The National Trust will now join with local and state efforts to preserve and repurpose the school said Brandon Bibby, Senior Preservation Architect for the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “Now in the 37th year of the listing, the initiative has uplifted more than 350 sites with only a handful of those lost,” Bibby said.

What it means is more eyeballs will be on Roosevelt.

Judy Mead, President of the National Gary Theodore Roosevelt Alumni Association said the list is used by donors who want to fund nonprofits. “Being on the list will bring national attention to Roosevelt. We were glad to work with Indiana Landmarks Black Heritage Preservation Program on their application to the National Trust.”

In 2020, Roosevelt was named to Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered List. According to Indiana Landmark’s website, “Demolition has claimed only twenty of the 153 Most Endangered sites since the list was introduced in 1991, while 101 places are completely restored or no longer endangered.”

Roosevelt is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Roosevelt closed for learning in February 2019 when the school’s heating system failed during a wave of sub-zero temperatures. Pipes burst, flooding classrooms and offices. Students and staff were sent to the Gary Career Center.

After an assessment of the damages, the Gary school district said Roosevelt was too old and too costly to repair. Insurance would only cover part of an estimated $10 million repair bill.

Preservation and reuse became a goal for alumni and many others in the city who feared Roosevelt would become an eyesore, a target for scavengers. They had seen it happen to dozens of other unused Gary schools.

In the hearts and minds of residents, Roosevelt is special. It opened in 1930 to educate the children of the city’s Black residents in Gary’s Midtown neighborhood and to keep the city’s schools segregated.

The Gary Community School Corporation listened to demands to keep the school safe, putting Roosevelt under 24-hour manned security in 2021.

“Typically when a building is closed in Gary, for whatever reason,” Gary Mayor Eddie Melton noted, “you may see destruction. But this structure, there’s hardly a window broken. That says a lot.” Melton applauded the school district for securing the windows and doors on the ground floor with steel shutters.

Cliff Caldwell, GCSC’s Director of Security said no break-ins have happened at Roosevelt since the DAWG Steel Shutters were installed in 2023. “It’s been a big cost savings because we don’t have to have security onsite anymore. This definitely keeps people out.”

Steel shutters look better than plywood, Caldwell said. “Wood rots and the boards can be pulled down.”

The City of Gary’s Redevelopment Dept. saw the shutters at Roosevelt and installed steel shutters at the Genesis Center early this year.

Carol Quillen, President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said, “The building was still a functioning school just five years ago, so by taking incremental steps, restoring and adapting the property is an entirely attainable goal. We stand behind the many incredible advocates determined to preserve the iconic property and adapt it for uses that serve the surrounding community.”

Story Posted:05/05/2024

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