INDIANAPOLIS — The new high school’s sports teams will be called the Argonauts, an obvious choice when you consider the extreme nautical nature of the unusual landmark the school will occupy.

Riverside High School is still on the drawing board, but its organizers say they expect it to open next fall in the old Heslar Naval Armory. The armory is that gleaming white, 60,000-square-foot building on the banks of the White River. From 1938 to 2015, it housed naval offices and training facilities, such as a simulated submarine, and one truly bizarre floor decoration.

Riverside High will be run by the board and administration of Herron High School, which opened in 2006 and has consistently received “A” ratings from the Indiana Department of Education. Herron is bulging, with 832 students and a long waiting list.

Riverside is expected to open with a 200-person freshman class in the fall of 2017 and then add a class each year until the school is Grades 9 through 12.

Herron’s head of school, Janet H. McNeal, will be Riverside’s head of school. McNeal said the building renovation would cost $5.4 million and that private fundraising is underway. She said she hopes the work would begin “by Thanksgiving.”

She has experience turning old buildings into new schools. Herron High, at 16th and Pennsylvania streets, occupies a complex of century-old buildings, one of them built as an art museum.

Motivated by a renewed interest in retro style, as well as the tax credits that are sometimes available for historic preservation, outside-the-box thinkers are imagining new uses for vacant buildings. The trendy and award-winning Fletcher Place restaurant Milk Tooth, for instance, occupies the service bays of an old automotive garage. A 136-year-old Catholic church at 540 N. College Ave. is now St. Joseph Brewery & Public House. Throughout the countryside barns are becoming wedding halls.

With its imposing semi-circular facade, the old naval armory’s exterior has the feel of a temple, or mausoleum, or at least hall of fame. Etched into its rampart-like walls are the names of naval heroes: John Paul Jones, David Farragut, Oliver Hazard Perry and others.

Inside, it’s like being on a ship, or at least at a theme park. Porthole-style windows are everywhere. Iron stair rails are decorated with intricate rope work. Hanging on walls are the following: ship’s bell, life rings, decorative anchors, murals the size of ping-pong tables depicting historic naval battles painted by artists during the Works Progress Administration.

The strangest thing is in what was once the officer’s club, a cozy barroom on the third floor with commanding views of the river. The floor is terrazzo, as it is throughout the building, but in this room it is decorated with inlaid designs, such as gold stars. But the most interesting feature is the face of a cartoon man-creature that resembles a demonic, drunk or snowman version of Homer Simpson (even though “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening was not born until 16 years after the floor was laid).

The naval armory is still owned by the city, but a plan is in motion to transfer ownership to Indiana Landmarks, which would then hand it to the school. “We see this as neighborhood revitalization,” said Marsh Davis, Landmarks’ president. “And what else are you going to do with this marvelous building?”

The armory was built from 1936 to 1938 to house the offices and classrooms for the Navy Reserve. It also housed a bar and restaurant that served Navy veterans and the public. After the Sept. 11 attacks, federal regulations put the facility on a sort of lockdown. Concrete walls and high fences went up around the building, and the public’s access was curbed. Activity in the building slowed, and in early 2015 the Navy Reserve and the Marine Corps Reserve moved out.

McNeal and Herron’s board chairman, Joanna Taft, saw opportunity. “The moment I saw the WPA paintings in the gym was the moment that I felt like this was the right building for a classical high school,” said Taft. “Sports and art together. When I went upstairs and saw the dining room and the officers’ club, overlooking the river, I could see our students thriving there and learning to love their city even more.”

The views from the building toward the west are spectacular. Here the White River is wide and deep and pretty straight. It would be a nice place to row a boat, and McNeal said she and other school officials are considering adding crew to their sports program.


Source: The Indianapolis Star, http://indy.st/2c5z0uY


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The Indianapolis Star.