Letters to the Editor 9-14-17


To the Editor:

The historic 158-year-old Vevay Grade/High School on Seminary Street in Vevay is slated for demolition unless more community support for saving and repurposing it can be demonstrated to the Switzerland County School Board and Superintendent very soon. The historic school, which is located adjacent to the Old Gymnasium, is one of the oldest school buildings still in existence in Indiana, according to Mr. Paul Diebold, the Assistant Director of the Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Diebold has also reported that it is one of a scant handful of school buildings in the state that predate the Civil War.

The Vevay Grade/High School was built in 1859, as the first public school in Switzerland County. By the time the first class had graduated from the school there was need for more room, and in 1872 a second “new” school building was constructed. This second school, along with the Vevay Grade/High School built 158 years ago, constituted the Vevay Public School System. Switzerland County historical records indicate that renowned local author, Edward Eggleston, whose historic home on Main Street is still used as a residence, was a student at the Vevay Grade/High School. Unfortunately, the 1872 building was demolished by school officials in the 1970’s for some unknown reason.

Now the Vevay Grade/High School is slated for demolition unless community support for saving and repurposing this significant historic landmark is shown very soon. On May 15, 2017, the Switzerland County School Board voted to demolish the building soon after the annual Vevay Alumni meetings were held in August 2017. Fortunately, however, the motion was made with the stipulation that the motion could be rescinded if community financial support could be found. The proposed demolition was delayed until after August 2017, so that Vevay High School alums and others would have the opportunity to take photos of the old school before it was demolished.

The Vevay Historic District has been listed on the Indiana State Register of Historic Sites and Structures since 1981, and the old school is included within the Historic District boundaries. There is also an active application for the Vevay Historic District to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This project is sponsored by Vevay Main Street Inc. and is ongoing. Structures listed on the Indiana State Register of Historic Structures cannot legally be altered, demolished, or removed by a project funded in whole or in part by the state, that is with taxpayer monies. Because taxpayer funds cannot legally be utilized for demolition, it appears that the school board and superintendent may possibly try to sell the historic school to a salvage company which would demolish the building and reclaim its numerous irreplaceable interior and exterior construction materials. These one-of-a-kind and very valuable building materials, many of which are no longer produced, would then be lost to our Switzerland County community forever, along with our historic school building.

The demolition of this historic landmark would occur only so that ten additional parking spaces could be made available for Old Gym parking. No other school corporation structure needs to be constructed on the current site of the old Vevay school, and many county residents believe that it is doubtful that additional parking is frequently needed in the Seminary Street area, and particularly not at the cost of one of the community’s few remaining historic public buildings.

The GEA architectural firm of Muncie, Indiana included the following information in a recent structural and elements evaluation of the historic school, which one of its architects conducted on July 15, 2017. In his report, the architect wrote the following, “I would like to remind you that the Vevay Grade/High School building will still be standing long after many of the newer buildings constructed in this county are gone, even if nothing is done to it. The material and knowledge to ever build this building again is lost. Some things are irreplaceable. This building is one of them. It wouldn’t even make much sense to insure it because you can’t ever rebuild it.” The school board also received a similar report from an Indiana Landmarks representative who visited school board members and the superintendent on two occasions and reported on the high degree of structural integrity and the distinctive architectural features that he noted in the old school.

The fate of the old Vevay school is an issue that matters deeply to many of our community’s residents. Some of these residents have shown their support for saving and repurposing the old school by signing petitions, by offering to make contributions to the school corporation, or by speaking up at school board meetings and community gatherings about the significance that the old school building holds in our community.

To date, however, the motion to demolish the building has not been rescinded by the Switzerland County School Board. For the past three months, discussion of the old school building has not been allowed to be placed on the public school board meeting agendas. The “Board Member Comments” segments of the July and August 2017 public school board meetings were also excluded from the agendas of these public meetings. Therefore, no additional discussion of the historical preservation grants which could possibly be pursued for its rehabilitation, no discussion of historic preservation regulations which protect and mitigate harm done to historic buildings, and no additional discussion of possible school corporation uses for the building could occur in public through agenda items or through motions made for such discussion; that is, the fate of the old school could not be discussed at these public school board meetings, even days before it was slated for demolition.

An August 31, 2017, front page “Vevay Reveille” story was entitled “Study: saving old school could cost about $910,000.” Those reading just the headline and possibly the article itself would probably be very discouraged from attempting to continue their efforts to save and repurpose the school. This $910,000 amount was quoted by the GEA architectural firm as a quote for, “going down to the bare studs and doing all new electric, drywall, plumbing, heating and cooling, etc. to use the building as apartments and office space.”

The Switzerland County School Corporation does not need to and should not sell the old school building for apartments and/or office space. There are many viable uses for this old school by the school corporation, its staff, and its students, and some of these uses would require little restoration and minimal associated costs, and certainly not require “going down to the bare studs.”

Historic Structures Preservation grants and community partnerships are available to communities for saving and repurposing historic structures through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and the Indiana Office of Tourism Development has established Place Based Investment Funds for such purposes. These programs provide opportunities for all Indiana communities to apply for grant funding to support community projects that focus on enhancing the quality of life as well as the uniqueness of a community, such as our State Historic-registered old school does.

Many county residents have expressed an interest in seeing an old school museum established in the Vevay Grade/High School for displaying school-related memorabilia, student photographs and yearbooks, school-related antique furniture and equipment, etc., etc. which would represent the 158 year-old history of the building and for displaying more current school memorabilia highlighting the accomplishments of the students and staff of all of our county schools to the present time. There also appears to be interest in establishing an “Athletic Hall of Fame Museum” for displaying Vevay High School- related sports memorabilia, trophies, collector sports equipment and uniforms, letter jackets, etc., etc. and for also showcasing the athletic accomplishments of our Switzerland County athletes up until present day.

Such school and athletic museums, established in the old Vevay school, just as it sits today, (and certainly not with a $910,000 expenditure for new electric, drywall, plumbing, heating and cooling systems, etc.) is the viable and feasible use that is envisioned for the building by many community residents. Such museums would represent creative projects that would build upon the existing assets of our community that can be enhanced to make them even more attractive to its residents and visitors of all ages, as well as serve to create a renewed sense of pride in the Switzerland County community.

As mentioned by many patrons, other areas and rooms of the old building have many other practical purposes for the school corporation. If the building were utilized for storage alone, it could be very valuable to the school corporation. In May, one Switzerland County elementary teacher explained to the school board and superintendent how she envisions an upstairs room of the old school being utilized as a teacher resource/lending library area and storage for the schools’ valuable curricular and instructional materials for which there is limited storage space in our school buildings.

Many educators and school patrons feel that at some point the old school might need to be utilized for student instructional programs and classroom space if school enrollments continue to increase, as they have in recent years.

It would seem that very soon, discussion among school board members and the superintendent should occur at a regular public school board meeting so that they can discuss publicly how the $465,000 allocated over the next three years for the old school’s improvement, as per the 2018 Three-Year Capital Project Fund Plan recently presented to the public, could be utilized. For starters, some of these monies could be used for matching Historic Preservation Fund grants once National Historic Register status is finalized for the old school. There are experts in historic preservation who are willing to assist our school corporation in obtaining these grants, and there is a desire among many of our community residents that the school board and superintendent work toward those ends for the purpose of preserving and utilizing the old school.

Saving and repurposing the old Vevay Grade/High School will require leadership and cooperation from the superintendent and school board, as well as demonstrated community support. Preservation is not just about saving old buildings; it is about saving communities and the values they embody. It has been said that as a people, we will be remembered not for the monuments or structures that we build, but for those that we destroy. It has also been said, that if we do not honor our past that we will lose our future. In the opinion of many Switzerland County patrons, taxpayers, and educators, no truer words have ever been spoken regarding our historic landmark Vevay Grade/High School.

William T. Cord,

Montgomery Road, Vevay