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Revitalizing Main Street
U.Va. Graduate’s Plan For Her Hometown High School Serves Students And Community

May 6, 2004 -- Though most people today would agree that the phenomenon of “suburban sprawl” is threatening the existence of our rural landscape, most of us do not know what to do about it. Perhaps, like those in Montgomery County, Pa., we should take a lesson from Jill E. Nolt, whose plan for managing the growth of her hometown high school recently made headlines.

A soon-to-be “double ’hoo,” who earned her undergraduate degree in architecture with high honors from U.Va. in 1998 and who will receive dual master’s degrees in architecture and landscape architecture here on May 16, Nolt conducted research for her master’s thesis last fall on defining and structuring space within the boundaries and dynamics of time. This highly theoretical study included a practical application in the form of a proposal to address the urgent needs of two groups — education and business — within her hometown of Souderton, Pa.

The high school in Souderton is overpopulated and projected to grow even further. In response, the school district has proposed to build an $85 million campus on 160 acres of farmland. Simultaneously, local business leaders and town officials are seeking to repopulate the increasingly vacant Main Street area, which lies adjacent to the existing high school.

In Nolt’s plan, instead of spending millions on a new high school campus miles from the town center, the neglected buildings along Main Street would be renovated to serve as additional facilities for both the school and the town. A performing arts center and a fitness center could be used by students during the day and by the entire town in the evening; additional classrooms could provide meeting space outside of school hours. New retail businesses, established along the street, would allow students employed in the school’s work-study program to provide goods and services to the community as a whole.

“The growth of the school within the borough will cultivate the revitalization of the once-thriving town,” Nolt said. “Together the borough and the school can make Souderton a new kind of community that integrates learning, culture and economics and that promotes high school students as an important part of the society.”

Recently, Nolt’s proposal was featured on the front page of the town newspaper, The Morning Call. In addition to generating interest among the people of Souderton, her ideas have the potential to be applied to similarly situated communities throughout the region and the country.

Julie Bargmann, director of landscape architecture, commended Nolt’s multi-disciplinary vision: “I think it’s wonderful that her work has caught her town’s attention and has significant civic implications that reach beyond formal design implications. She is the ideal model of our new department of architecture and landscape architecture in that she can think at the scale of a watershed, and create at the scale of a doorknob.”

Contact: Derry Wade, (434) 982-2921

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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