In March of 2009, members of the Switzerland County School Corporation administrative staff moved out of the old Vevay Elementary School/High School on Seminary Street. The move was necessitated by health issues that ranged from asbestos to mold to a broken sewer line that flooded the basement. Staff was moved to the computer room of Switzerland County Middle School, where they remained until the current administration building could be constructed.
And for the past eight years, the old high school has basically sat vacant.
The school corporation did use the building for storage for a few years, but the possible health effects have led to those files being moved out. Both the utilities and the electricity has been shut off for several months now, with the school corporation continuing to pay liability insurance on the building.
But, now, something needs to be done.
Last week, the Facilities and Grounds committee of the school board held a public meeting to discuss options for the future of the building; which range from complete renovation to demolition. Some organizations discussed the availability of grants to help renovate the building, but many of those grants require matching funds
The Old Gym, which sits next to the old high school, is still used for basketball games as well as gym classes; and is still a viable and important part of the corporation. The school board is moving forward with some improvements to the Old Gym, continuing to use it in the future.
The building, which dates back to 1863, was originally built as an elementary school, and became the high school after the old high school that sat next to it was vacated and eventually demolished. Vevay High School students remained in the building until the new Switzerland County High School was finished in the late 1960s.
“Some of the issues that were raised at the time that they (the administration) moved out included a sewer issue; and asbestos, and other issues there that, at the time were used cause them to move out,” Superintendent Mike Jones said. “The grounds committee met, and there was Terry Stephenson from Historic Hoosier Hills, they do some preservation. One of the things he said was, ‘We really don’t get involved unless there is community support’. I talked to the historical society and tourism, and the Vevay Alumni. The Vevay Alumni has interest in the building, but they really don’t have funds. The historical society has interest, but I think they’re putting their focus on the farmstead; and tourism had some interest, but I don’t know if they were willing to put forward the funds.”
Jones said that Jarrod Holbrook from Indiana Landmarks spoke to the board at a recent board meeting, and Jones said that Holbrook did have some environmental issues, but that structurally the building was fairly sound.
Are there estimates on what it will cost to fix the environmental issues? Jones said that the board hasn’t had estimates lately, but that earlier estimates are now low.
“We’re thinking now, I don’t think you can refurbish old buildings anymore for less than $1 million,” Jones said.
Along with environmental issues, the building would have to be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; including the concern that there isn’t an alternative emergency exit from the second floor, should there be a need to evacuate.
Possible uses for a renovated old high school would be to house memorabilia from the Vevay Alumni that is being stored from old Vevay High School archives; and housing the Switzerland County Athletic Hall of Fame.
But it comes down to safety and finding the money needed to do the renovations, knowing that targeting money in that direction means taking it from other current or future planned projects.
Because of the continued use of the Old Gym, Jones said that the school corporation isn’t looking to sell the property; but acknowledges that several members and organizations in the community and the area would have to come together with a substantial amount of money just to secure any grants that may come.
And, Jones said that there would be the option of renting space in the building to non-profits, but currently office space seems to be plentiful in the county; so any investment would need to be made knowing that the chances for income coming in would be slim.
He acknowledged that many people in the community would like to see the old high school saved, but at some point the money has to be available.
Is saving the building worth a possible $500,000 initial investment; and then the ongoing costs of utilties and insurance?
It’s a hard question to answer, one that can’t be answered emotionally, but practically.
“I think the board is getting to the point were something has got to be done,” Jones said. “Again, I don’t know what the board would do, but I do look for a recommendation from the facilities and grounds committee. The options are demolition or restoration. The Vevay Alumni said that they could help in terms of staffing it, if we used it for a museum or whatever, but I don’t think they have any money or whatever.”
The conversation as to what to do with the old high school began in March of 2009, when at the March 2nd school board meeting, the administration building was discussed. In the minutes:
Problems that are currently plaguing the building include asbestos containment; mold; sewage drains; electrical capacities; and fire safety issues on the upstairs level. The problem of the sewage drains has forced the central office and Special Services staff to leave the building until these issues can be addressed. If the existing drains in the basement are capped off and re-routed to the outside through the Transportation office, at least part of the parking lot would need to be destroyed ….
…Using heavy duty equipment in and around the basement is an issue, as the structural integrity of the building, being over 100 years old, is questionable. It was suggested that the company that has performed the building’s past inspections regarding the asbestos be called in for an assessment and ask if this work is done, what the consequences might be on the existing asbestos…
…If there was ever a fire that closed off the stairway, those persons in the upstairs offices would need an alternative means of escape, such as a ladder or a chute. The old windows are also an issue, It was suggested that the mold also be checked out. Mold has been a long time issue, as part of the basement is a dirt floor and stays damp most of the time.
In the minutes of March 1st, 2010, the issue of what to do with the building was again discussed:
Mr. Phipps (Board member Jim Phipps) said that he had been asked about future plans for the old Administration Building. Dr. Jones (then-Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones) said that soon after the old building was vacated, she was approached by the Patriot and Vevay Alumni Associations as to the future of the building, because they had a multitude of memorabilia they wanted to display. Dr. Jones said she also spoke with the Historical Society about the building. She said she gave them her word that the building would be left as it was for two years which would give them time to seek grant funds for refurbishing. Dr. Jones said that what concerned her is that if they were able to acquire grant funds to refurbish the building, would they also be able to find the funds to maintain it.
The matter came up again at the July 9th, 2012 meeting:
Mr. Hocker (school attorney Ron Hocker) said the Corporation would need a 106 Hearing or a waiver from the state to tear down a building in a historical district or tax payer money could not be used to do so. He said that the building was not in a national historic district, but was in a state historic district.
So what’s the future of the old high school building? It comes down to finding the money necessary to clean up the environmental issues and then restore the building. Once restored, funding would then be needed to maintain and keep up the maintenance on the building.
The school board will continue to discuss the matter; and Jones said that there is no established timeline to make a final decision, but that as the matter nears being a decade old, something needs to be decided so that all parties can move forward.