For years, they languished in a storage facility, relics from a bygone era.
But the stained-glass windows that hung at the old Philadelphia School District building at 21st and Benjamin Franklin Parkway were gorgeous, colorful city scenes that were wasted out of the public eye, said Christopher McGinley, a member of the new school board and de facto district historian. McGinley's parents were both district educators, and he worked as a teacher and administrator in the system for years before becoming a superintendent in the Philadelphia suburbs and then a School Reform Commission member.
So as part of a $500,000 renovation to the Board of Education offices inside district headquarters on North Broad Street, the windows were hauled out of storage, cleaned, repaired, and hung. Take it as a sign, McGinley said, of the way the new board means to do business.
"I'm really committed to that artwork being seen by students and citizens," said McGinley, who added that he "really wanted there to be connections to the old board building."
One of the first things visitors see in the physically revamped, former SRC space is a brand-new meeting room: a long table at the front, with dozens of chairs set up for the public. Most committee meetings will be held there; so will a meet-and-greet after the first Board of Education meeting, set for Monday, July 9.
"This is certainly sending the message that it's something new," said Leticia Egea-Hinton, another board member.
One thing board members have heard loud and clear in the months since their appointment by Mayor Kenney is that the public wants a break from the SRC and its complicated history; they want more accessibility and transparency. Egea-Hinton and McGinley said the new committee structure the board will form on Monday should help with that.
"The committees will give people a place to have discussions, to have more informal dialogue," said McGinley.
"We are very interested in hearing from parents, people in the community," said Egea-Hinton. The hope is that people do not hear about important matters first at board action meetings, that issues are raised early, that members of the public feel comfortable coming to committee meetings — some of which will be held in city neighborhoods — to air their concerns and ask questions.
As for the board's physical space, that's a new look, too.
In the past, each of the five SRC members had his or her own office; as the transition rolled out, the board had to grapple with how it would situate four new officials. Instead of building new, individual offices for the nine board members, it went for an open-plan space, with tables and chairs grouped to encourage collaboration, a meeting room, and even nine lockers for members to store things.
"It's less of that rigid, traditional office," said Egea-Hinton. "It's a very 21st-century look."
It's a departure, too, from the old board days, when each member had his or her own office in the ornate old building.
The windows, according to a history compiled in 1987 by the district's Meredith School, were made by the old Columbia Art Glass Co. in 1929 for an exhibition room in the district building. They were never hung, for reasons that are not clear.
In 1984, a district employee discovered the panels in their original crates in a district warehouse. They were "slightly damaged and very dirty, but with minor repairs, they look like new." The panels — bright blues, greens, and yellows, with touches of red, depicting the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Schuylkill and the Waterworks, as well as the Acropolis in Athens — were exhibited at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 1987, then in the foyer directly behind the board room at the old district headquarters.
Officials said the cost of restoring the windows themselves was $5,000 — the glass is original, but the wood around the windows needed replacement. The rest of the board office renovation budget went to construction and expenses associated with equipping the meeting room with technology necessary to broadcast meetings digitally. The money came from the SRC's budget through the district's general operating fund, the officials said.
McGinley underscored the symbolism of the stained glass, though.
A treasure trove of art was abruptly removed from district schools more than a decade ago after officials decided the works — paintings, antiques, and artifacts — were too valuable to be hanging unsecured. Most have been kept in an undisclosed location since then, though some notable paintings were exhibited last year at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. The stained-glass panels were added in the early 2000s, when the district's central office moved to 440 N. Broad St.
Some works are not worth much financially but have sentimental value; those should be back in schools. Others might not make sense in schools but should still be seen, McGinley said.