October 24, 2014

Voters reject old SH school renovation

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

Spring Hill voters rejected a ballot initiative that would’ve saved an old school building in town. A ballot question asked voters to allow the city to issue bonds up to $1.5 million to renovate and restore the old building for use as office space.

The voter’s rejection of the initiative will likely lead to the destruction of the part of the building. The northern portion  currently serves as city hall and the civic center. The portion of the building in question – the southern part – has been shut off to visitors for years due to mold and damage.

Mayor Mark Squire has been the strongest advocate on the governing body for restoring the old building, but he said he wasn’t surprised by the electoral outcome.

“I think it’s sad. I think it’s wrong,” he said.

It is the oldest public building in Spring Hill, he said.

“Communities are like people. They need to have that connection to the past,” he said. “They need to have that something tangible from the past.”

The school district sold the school building to the city for $1 in 1995. Since then, city officials have used it as city hall and as a civic center. However, the south side of the building – the oldest portion – is walled up and closed due to disrepair.

“We had a roof that was leaking and we could’ve spent $25,000 to $30,000 years ago to fix it,” Squire said. “Instead we just patched it up.”

Council member Chris Leaton said the election mirrored the general consensus of the council.

“Everyone sitting up there had a sentimental heart for the building,” Leaton said. But he added, “It was a massive money pit.”

Estimates to repair the building and bring it to code came to $1.5 million. Estimates to destroy it were less than 10 percent of that cost – about $140,000.

Also, the council had no defined purpose for the portion of the building that’s been closed due to disrepair.

“It became functionally obsolete,” Leaton said. “Especially when there are greater needs within the city. It boils down to what are the priorities of the community.”

Both Squire and Leaton agree that it will be critical in the coming months to move forward on the building’s destruction in order to maintain the civic center gym.

The old school building shares a wall with the regularly used gym. The wall needs repaired and shoring in the near future.

“We can’t afford to lose the gym,” Squire said.

Leaton also said solidifying the integrity of the gym was key.

“It is an essential piece of our community – that gymnasium,” Leaton said. “It’s possibly used by all facets of the community.”

City officials will likely have to let bonds to generate funds for the building no matter what council decides to do now that the voters have spoken.
There is no room in the budget to fund either destruction or restoration of the building.

The council will discuss the issue at its next council meeting. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15 at the Civic Center.

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