School buildings were once a source of great community pride. This was displayed in their aspirational architecture, such as that of Boise High School (photo). The school people know today was built in phases, beginning in 1908. It was the work of Idaho architects John E. Tourtellotte and Charles F. Hummel, who would also design the Idaho statehouse. Boise High is designed in the neo-classical revival style. One of the details that one might consider aspirational is the representation of Plato in the frieze on the portico roof at the entrance, held aloft by soaring columns.
Compare this to almost any high school built in the past 30 years. You’ll more often find a design that would work as well for a prison, with concrete and cinder block walls and small windows if windows are included at all. There is an industrial feel to these schools.
The aspirations of the community were sometimes reflected in school names. In Boise three early schools were named for poets, Whittier, Lowell, and Longfellow. Today names like that are more often found in the themed streets of subdivisions.
Building a school with memorable architecture would probably be impossible today, given the resistance to the additional cost. I understand why communities, arguably, choose to invest more in education itself, rather than the buildings that house the students. I wonder, though, if we are missing something important in the educational environment, a sense of wonder and of continuity with the past.
Since we are unlikely to build something today with character, I encourage communities that still can to save their iconic old school buildings whenever possible.