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Old school building continues to hang in there

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Now 85 years old and in extreme disrepair, the old school got a new roof this week.

By MELODY JAMESON

GIBSONTON — With the tenacity of a risk-taking but long-lived cat, the aged and dilapidated Gardenville School building here got a new lease on life this week.

The brick structure on Symmes Road, built to function as a grade school, later converted to a community recreational center and considered ready for razing a year ago, was reroofed this week, according to Dan Myers, a senior architect in the county’s facilities management department.

However, the layer of new 20-year shingles on top of the old roof is intended more to stop leaking than to replace a failed roof in a building rehabilitation effort, Myers said. The job, involving laying shingles over existing roofing material, could give the long-closed structure another 10 to 12 years, he added.

The job was done for $1.81 per square foot or for a total of just under $8,000, the architect noted, adding “we negotiated a good price.” The pitched roof with several valleys covers a single-story rectangular building of about 4,400 square feet.

Built in 1925, the red brick structure served as the area’s elementary school for more than 30 years. Many residents of Gibsonton and its environs today spent their early school years in its classrooms which served first through eighth graders.

In 1959, when Gibsonton Elementary was opened, the former school was pressed into service as a recreation and meeting center for the community. This phase of its history ended in 2005 when the community’s dedicated recreational center was completed and opened immediately to the east.

Then 80 years old and showing its age, the structure which had sheltered, guided and helped launch an untold number of youngsters, was closed and shuttered. By 2010, it was being discussed for razing which would have cleared the land next to the existing rec center, perhaps for expansion of that facility nearing capacity. Both local residents and county authorities noted at the time the old building’s poor condition and lack of suitability for any other purposes. Structural rehabilitation costs were estimated in the $500,000 range, considerably more than the cost of leveling it.

 While it may represent historic milestones in the lives of locals, the building’s faults for any repurposing are numerous. Constructed originally to standards of the early 20th century, it falls far short of today’s building requirements, Myers has said in the past. Its roof is not tied to the walls, its walls are not anchored to the foundation, the architect noted, and there are very basic problems with its windows. In addition, due to moisture seepage through the failed roof, the flooring is completely unreliable and molds have grown through the building. What’s more, its rest rooms are inadequate for 21st century use.

In short, Myers reiterated this week, any restoration meeting current building codes could amount to tearing it down to the bare brick walls and then placing an entirely new building from foundation to roof inside them. In the past, he has characterized the estimated half million dollar investment in structural improvements as merely a “down payment” on the final total costs.

And Pete Johnson, a lifelong Gibsonton area resident now retired who attended the old school as a boy, has labeled the old building an unending “money pit” for which the historic restoration window simply has closed.

On the other hand, the Gardenville Recreation Center has been designated to become one of a dozen regional centers scattered around the county to replace some 30 community parks to be closed under a plan floated by Mark Thornton, Hillsborough’s parks, recreation and conservation director. Neither the facilities management department nor the office of Sandy Murman, the district’s county commissioner, could state whether the old school is being eyed as part of the regional rec center at Gardenville.

Meanwhile, Myers pointed out, the 85-year-old school building is dried in, if unusable, somewhat protected from further deterioration and from becoming a public nuisance as its final fate again is debated.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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