Twenty-One Years

BRHS stairwell
Originally uploaded by KF.

At last, some images from the class reunion. I didn’t take many pictures of the people at the reunion, and swore to several that I wouldn’t post any pictures of them online. So what’s here is largely a meditation on the disintegration of the school’s physical plant since 1984.

The reunion consisted of two events, a brown-bag picnic and self-guided tour of the school in the afternoon, and a party that night. The party was terrific fun, if it did make clear to some of us our imminent fogey status (we spent much time complaining about how dark and loud it was, how we couldn’t read one another’s nametags and we couldn’t carry on a decent conversation. Very sad).

The picnic was much weirder, much more uncomfortable. No small part of this, for me, had to do with the sad shape that the school itself seems to be in. The building is a gorgeous old behemoth, built during the 1920s, and always felt like a somewhat mythic place to go to school, right down to the “HIGH SCHOOL” inscribed in the marble over the front doors. And as my pal Beth and I pulled into the parking lot, we both said, simultaneously, that the place hadn’t changed at all since we’d last been there.

BRHS exterior
Originally uploaded by KF.

This was not a good thing.

It was evident that the parking lot has not been repaved in years and years, for instance. And very little upkeep has been done on the buildings, outside or in. The seats in the auditorium, covered in already aging green velvet upholstery when we were students, are now twenty-one years older. The paint in the hallways appears to be the same paint as in 1984, perhaps a layer or two thicker. And the linoleum tile floors are, if anything, patched in more mismatched ways than before.

The whole thing was a bit heartbreaking, and evidence of the things that have gone wrong in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. When the system came under a federal consent decree mandating the desegregation of the parish’s schools, largely via forced busing, the result was massive white flight; a system that had been 70% white and 30% black in the late 1970s is now 75% black and 25% white. And one of the results of this is that, for the last twenty years, whenever a new sales tax or bond issue to support public schools in Baton Rouge has come before the public for a vote, the measure has been defeated.

Baton Rouge High School was transformed into a magnet school in the late 1970s, and was, during my junior year, named a national School of Excellence. The decrepitude into which the facilities have fallen, emblematic of the self-destruction of the entire school system, is devastating to see — and is unrelieved by the irony that, two years ago, the school was honored once again as a “No Child Left Behind” blue-ribbon institution.

2 thoughts on “Twenty-One Years

  1. Ditto on the school. Kathleen kept saying how run-down it looked, which is really sad, because it is an architectural gem.

    In contrast, though, the grounds were quite nicely transformed. The thing about the new landscaping that Chip B. and I found funny were the plaques commemorating those who had donated money for the landscaping – in all seriousness they looked like grave markers! Chip asked me (rather tongue-in-cheek) if I, too, wanted to be buried on the BRHS grounds. Uh, no thanks.

  2. One quick point of clarification for the easily confused: Trent’s Kathleen is a whole other Kathleen other than me. Just in case you were wondering why he was telling me what I said.

    And yes, the grounds are nicely transformed. Alumni Plaza, the new area out front you’re talking about, was quite well done, though some of the bricks are a bit more mausoleal than one might like. Three generations of my family are apparently buried there, including me.

    The thing that I find most depressing about it, though, was that the thing had to be financed by independent fundraising, and that those doing the fundraising focused on the school’s exterior. I’m seriously thinking of writing the alumni association and inquiring about starting an annual fund for the school to use for actual physical plant improvments.

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