Gary’s Roosevelt on state’s list of endangered buildings

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2020
Roosevelt College and Career Academy

Crusader Staff Report

Gary’s historic but shuttered Roosevelt High School building is on the Indiana Landmarks list of 10 most endangered places in the state.

This is the second time Roosevelt’s building was placed on an endangered list. In January, The Calumet Heritage Partnership also placed the Colonial Revival architecturally designed building on its 2020 Most Endangered Places list that also included the Gary Water Tower, East Chicago’s Calumet Trust and Savings Bank and the Michigan Central Railroad Depot in Michigan City.

The latest designation on the Indiana Landmarks list comes as Roosevelt’s Alumni prepare to hold a special ceremony to place a historic marker at the school, located at 730 W. 25th Ave. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Roosevelt was the only school built for Blacks when Gary was segregated in the 1920s.

The building has been abandoned since 2019, when pipes burst during frigid temperatures forcing school officials to close the crumbling building and hold classes in the Gary Area Career Center. In February, the Indiana Board of Education voted to close the building because of high renovation and maintenance costs in the struggling, cash strapped Gary schools district. In June, Roosevelt graduated its last group of graduates with the Class of 2020.

The building is likely to follow the fates of other abandoned school buildings that have fallen into further disrepair and have become eyesores to neighborhoods in Gary.

Other places on the Indiana Landmarks most endangered list include Elwood Carnegie Library and the Tipton County Jail & Sheriff’s Residence in Central Indiana, and the downtown district of the town of Attica.

Though permanently closed, Roosevelt’s building remains a cherished landmark to its die-hard alumni.

Indiana Landmarks is a state historic preservation organization that produces a list of the most endangered places. The list raises awareness about important but abandoned buildings that are in jeopardy of being demolished because they are too expensive to renovate or restore.

Roosevelt was added to the list because of its historical significance to Gary.

The building was built in 1929 to serve Gary’s growing population of Black students, who were not welcomed to study with white students at other schools in the city. The school building was designed by renowned architect William Butts Ittner, who also designed the long-shuttered Emerson High School.

Named after Theodore Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president, the school forged a tradition of athletic and academic excellence that made it a proud beacon of Black achievement in Gary and the Midwest. Its alumni have established successful careers in entertainment, sports, politics, medicine, law, and business.

In 2011, Roosevelt was taken over by the state after the school received an F grade for six consecutive years. As part of a multimillion dollar contract, Edison Learning was hired to manage Roosevelt’s academic curriculum. After nearly 10 years of little to no academic progress, EdisonLearning this year withdrew from its contract after making over $32 million to operate the historic school.

With at least $10 million in renovation costs, the state unanimously voted to close the building for good before parents of the remaining 400 students made plans to enroll their children at other institutions in Gary, most of them being charter schools.

There may be hope for Roosevelt’s crumbling building.

The Gary school district reportedly is making plans to release a request for a new owner who can restore and use Roosevelt’s building for another purpose.

Out of 146 endangered sites on the Indiana Landmarks list, only 19 have been demolished while 95 have been completely restored.

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