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Salvaging old school now questionable

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Gibsonton — Upon review and despite the best of intentions, this community’s 85-year-old brick schoolhouse may be history.
Initial estimates for recovery of the Gardenville School on Symmes Road – the one-story, two-classroom , solid brick structure where many local residents began their educations – are in the $500,000 range. And some consider that only the first payment in the process.
These are among the facts county authorities now are mulling as the result of recently- received professional engineering evaluations of the old school’s structural integrity at a time when county funds are particularly scarce.
The engineering reports, provided to Hillsborough County’s Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department by two consulting firms last week, put the cost of bringing the floor, walls and roof of the former school up to current building codes at $442,784, said Dan Myers, an architect in the county’s real estate department.
Built and opened as an elementary school in the mid-1920s, the 4,400-square-foot building was constructed in keeping with the standards of the times, Myers noted. And, with its solid red brick walls, it still may appear sound from an exterior vantage point, he acknowledged.

Over the decades, the small feet and young voices of at least three generations filled this school yard at Gardenville, first to learn as elementary school students and then to play at their community rec center. Today, the little brick building of about 4,400 square feet once devoted to two big classrooms for first through eighth graders, built in the early 1920s, the building has suffered the ravages of termites, water and time. Melody Jameson photo
But actually it lacks the elements considered crucial today in building functionally reliable structures. The roof, for instance, is resting on but is not tied to or secured to the walls. The roof trusses are made of a variety of woods. Even the windows are not tied into the walls surrounding them. Such situations make questionable the old building’s wind resistance in the kind of conditions that can accompany a hurricane or can develop in connection with a severe summer storm downdraft, the architect indicated.
Closed as a school in 1959 and subsequently converted to function as the community’s recreation center for years before the new, modernistic rec center immediately to the east was opened in 2005, the old building’s roof failed at some point, allowing water seepage for a prolonged period , in turn destroying the flooring.
Added to the building’s condition are the molds reportedly growing inside fostered by the damp conditions, the lack of an adequate air conditioning system necessary in a structure built of heat-retaining brick, the outdated restrooms unacceptable in a contemporary public building, electrical wiring dating back decades.
All of these would require additional remedies and still more money – money that is not budgeted and not on the horizon, Myers said. The choices, he added, are two: commit to salvage the structure at costs not yet fully calculated but sure to exceed the first half a million dollars or demolish it and save the required rehabilitation funds.
That first half a million, he summed up, “is only a down payment.”
The architect’s take on the situation is shared by lifelong Gibsonton resident Pete Johnson, who attended the school as a youngster. Johnson has labeled the old structure a “money pit,” adding that any interior evidence it once served as a school and community focal point now is gone.
On the other hand, the historic significance of the old school still could be recognized, said John Brill, spokesman for the county parks department. If the decision is made to raze the building, a plaque or other permanent marker might be placed on the site, paying homage to the role of the school in its community life, Brill added.
However, that decision has not yet been made, Brill asserted. The spokesman said he anticipates his department will review in detail the engineering reports on the school’s structural integrity before formulating its recommendation on final disposition of the building to the county commission. “There’s nothing critical at this point,” he said, adding that a final determination could be months ahead.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson

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