1975: Renovation or Ruin?
Boaz Chapman (Junior)
A common joke made about Obama’s appearance is how similar it looks to a prison. This is in part due to the building’s brutalist style and lack of windows. In our last issue we very briefly mentioned Peabody’s 1975 renovation, when our building lost its neoclassical style and obtained its current look. In this issue, The Eagle Times would like to take a deeper look at that renovation.
The 1975 renovation had two primary goals: to significantly increase the capacity of the school and to lower the cost of the school’s operation. The appearance of the school was not a priority.
The renovation added 24 new classrooms, improved athletics facilities, a library, and an expanded cafeteria to the school. This increased capacity to 3,000 students, much higher than our current student population of 900.
The second goal of lowering costs was in part due to the energy/oil crisis of the 1970s. Heating costs could be significantly lowered with added brick insulation. This was an architectural trend during the mid 70’s to early 80’s, until the popularizing of cheap energy efficient windows during the 80s and 90s. The original building remains, encased with a brick coating. Mrs. Roberts’ room had seven windows prior to 1975 and now only contains two. Many of the rooms in the center of the school have no windows at all. “They ruined everything,” said Ms. Prezioso. The renovation left little evidence of the original appearance of the school. The pillars on the side of the school are one of the few remaining features of the school’s original architecture.
One may wonder why Obama is one of the only schools in PPS to have this bare rectangular brick appearance. Other schools had full and partial renovations around this time, however Peabody was one of the first, given its age and outdated heating system. Other schools (such as Allderdice) already had newer heating systems, only received partial renovations, and put their renovation budgets towards other projects. Brashear has a similar rectangular brick look to Obama, but as it was completely rebuilt in 1976 rather than renovated, it managed to accommodate many more windows than our building. An anonymous source also told this journalist that multiple windows in the schools were broken as a result of school fights, and two students were even suspended out of windows during such fights. Removing windows and replacing the remaining one with reinforced glass prevented events like these from occurring.
A 1999 study from the Heschong Mahone Group, an energy consultancy, found that students exposed to daylight during school hours reported up to 20% and 26% better scores in math and english benchmarks respectively. Lack of natural light can also have negative effects on childrens’ mental health and sleep cycles. In a school where around a third of the classrooms lack a source of natural light, students’ academic success and mental health could be damaged. Our century old building has received a renovation roughly once every 50 years. As we approach the 50-year anniversary of our 1975 renovation, it may be time to consider returning some of the many windows we lost nearly half a century ago.