The school that never was – The silent victims of political party bickering

 

Soon after having moved to Ronda in southern Spain, my husband and I discovered a recent construction that was different from any other building in town. As Ronda is known for it’s protect-worthy edifices, it felt refreshing to discover that it had at least one modern-style building. Even historical towns needs to adjust with the changing times and embrace a bit of newness.

The building in question was located at the outskirts of town heading towards the industrial suburbs, and as it were, on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. Therefore, it in no way interfered with Ronda’s patrimony, rather bringing some style and visual interest to an otherwise drab part of town. The construction was slightly Asian inspired and had aesthetically pleasing landscaping outside, including multiple covered walkways over shallow ponds edged with Japanese maples and decorative foliage. The building itself was made of solid natural wood, featuring an open glass front and a semi-curved roof. It appeared to us that the construction had been paused for now, yet the occupation of it should have been rather imminent. It looked ready to go, even with fish in the ponds, and a dozen professional stainless cooking stations installed in one of the main floor areas. Not knowing it’s final purpose, we thought that this would be an awesome place to work, study or simply to be.

After doing some inquiries, we were told that the building had been intended as a learning centre for rondeño woodcarving and furniture making. This might later have been altered to include a cooking school, judging by above-mentioned equipment, though nobody could confirm as much. What the locals could tell us was the reason why the construction was put on hold – temporary, and we were to discover, possibly permanently. And here we come to the unfortunate part of this story, where political party bickering can be counterproductive at best.

The construction of the ‘water building’ as I call it was proposed and initiated by a certain political party in town. When said party lost the next election and another unnamed party took control of the municipal government, the construction was immediately stopped. There might have been many valid reasons for this decision, but lack of money which always is the excuse here in Andalucía, could not have been it, since the building was literally ready to open it’s doors. The word on the street was that the new town hall rulers didn’t want to complete a project that their political opponents had put into action. That would make them officially admit that the other side had had at least one good idea, and this could of course never happen. The beautiful water building was therefore fenced in and locked up indefinitely.

Leaping forward a couple of years, Ronda finally had found money to build a new library. The design competition had claimed a winner and a brand new modern structure was to be raised. In fact the library was to be located right beside the unused, unwanted water building, constructed merely a few years prior. The irony to us was that the already existing building had ample light, lots of room, and would have been a perfectly lovely place to borrow a book, sit and read, do research, write an essay or introduce ones kids into the world of literature. But the new library was the idea of a different political party and thus had to be housed in their very own proposed facility.

Giving credit where credit is due, the new library, now completed, is a cool piece of architecture as far as buildings are concerned. However, in contrast to the unwanted neighbouring building, the new library is plopped onto a barren piece of soil, without any adjacent landscaping or surrounding design. It seems that there has been no overall urban planning. Maybe the outside area of the library, which should include modernistic walkways and sculpture parks with places to sit and read, is in next year’s budget? For now, it still looks like a construction site, surrounded by wire mesh fences and a dirt parking lot.

Five years after we first came upon it, the beautiful Asian style water building is still standing there, sadly abandoned. With the passing of time it has started showing signs of ageing. The water garden feature has become unkempt and the untreated wood is discolouring and cracking. This decay, due to lack of use, will of course increase the cost of getting the building refinished, while it day by day diminishes the possibility of it being salvaged. The longer the politicians can hold off, the worse it will look and the more reason they will appear to have for bulldozing the entire structure. As a last assault, a few months ago someone came in with cube vans and removed all the cooking stations, as well as doors and anything else that they probably could find of value. To prevent squatters from entering and scavengers from ripping out the copper wires from the walls, the police recently wrapped police tape around the entire building. It was as if the town wanted to make it clear that the construction had been a bad accident.

Tourist-towns like Ronda need to do more than conservation to survive. We also need forward thinking people and urban innovation, which should include possibilities for higher education for the young. We cannot live exclusively from busloads of tourists quickly streaming though town buying a postcard and an ice cream in their wake. Ronda only offers a single university-level course in nursing. All other university studies have to be done elsewhere. Therefore our town would have benefitted greatly from the addition of one or several institutions of higher learning. Be it training furniture designers and wood carvers, chefs, neurobiologists or history professors, Ronda needs to offer hope and a future for their young. By having sabotaged the construction of a much-needed school because another political party initiated it, the town hall leaders have proved that they put their careers and egos above the development and the good of the town and its residents.

You haven’t heard of Universidad de Ronda? Of course you haven’t. It doesn’t exist. The town has a perfectly suited abandoned building for it – a former religious school sitting on the edge of Ronda’s mighty cliff. It has been proposed as a potential location for a university by a certain segment of the political leadership, though the powers that be might not be in agreement. Besides, of course there is no money, but that never seems to stop them from organizing férias. A university could be a vital addition to Ronda, giving the town influx of the intellectual kind, as opposed to its present fame for bullfights and bandoleros. Such an investment would bring vibrant young minds from Spain and beyond and make Ronda into a centre of innovation, in addition to bringing new commerce to town. Yet, like the water building and other projects that have stranded by politicians’ unwillingness to see beyond their own desks, this might never happen. For now, the future university building is rapidly falling apart, while the grounds are being used as a municipal parking lot.

We hope to see the day when these projects will be completed, giving employment, investments and new visions to Ronda. In the meantime, I keep popping by the water building, checking if the police tape still is marking the site of this municipal ‘accident’.