Letter to the editor: Preserve MET, toss out the Mullin’s proposal

Posted:  Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 7:45pm

I passed through the sixth-eighth grades at the Mary E. Taylor (MET) School in the early 1990s and can report that it was easily the district’s best environment at the time. This is not just a sentimental remembrance of May afternoons on Knowlton Street, but also my professional opinion as the founder of New York City based architectural practice that recently constructed a building on the campus of Wesleyan University and featured in publications like Architectural Digest. 

The tremendous value of MET is evident in context of the built environment of Camden-Rockport which are characterized by rural, suburban, and village building types.
MET is a village type building. While not in the geographic heart of Camden, it is an easy walk, and MET’s three-story height/density, masonry construction, and relationship to the street place it firmly in the village category.
This historical and distinctively New England urban form is under appreciated and endangered. This form is an economically productive type of urban environment – where the measure of a good building is not how cheaply it can be built, but how good an engine of work and learning it can be.  The village form is good for the environment – reducing the need for roads/cars, and heating fuel. Smart, growing communities, corporations, and schools worldwide are working to increase the density of their urban cores/campuses while simultaneously protecting their rural and wild landscapes. Camden-Rockport can be smart enough to take a similar approach – preserving MET because it is in everyone’s best interest.
The Mullins proposal, received late last year, should be discarded.
There are numerous problems with the proposal, ranging from security concerns, to the questionable feasibility of the business model. Most critical though, is that the proposal does not truly preserve MET.
Though it claims to be a “Historic Preservation” proposal, the meager budget allocated to the building’s necessary upgrades/repairs make it a “Historic Degradation” plan. The $12/SF budget is not one that would be proposed by an entity looking for a long life-cycle.  The degradation would be accelerated by the wear and tear associated with operating the proposed metalworking/woodworking machinery in the building -- make it less likely to be upgraded back to its traditional use — or any other.
There is confusion about the building codes related to MET, including on SAD 28’s Middle Matters website.  A renovation of the MET would be “grandfathered” in the sense that the renovation would be subject to Existing Building Code, NOT the more stringent Construction Code. This creates an “Entitlement Envelope” which would be lost in the event of demolition.
Converting the Mary E Taylor building into administrative offices is the district’s best option. It would save more than 50 percent of the cost of constructing a new building /SF, preserve a valuable piece of the local built-environment, honor local history and the sentiments of generations who studied there, is the sustainable choice, and is in everyone’s best interest.

Sebastian Quinn lives in Brooklyn, New York