While the future of the Fine Arts Building remains undetermined, a majority of those polled supports its demolition.
A phone survey of parents within the Houston R-1 School District indicated 58 percent of the 293 responses voted for demolition. The numbers, which Superintendent Scott Dill said represented a straw poll, were presented at last week’s monthly meeting of the Houston school board.
Dill said 23.2 percent of those polled were undecided while 18.8 favored restoration. He also shared 10 letters from Houston High School students addressing the issue in a class assignment. All 10 supported demolition.
The school board began exploring options in January to address the facility, which was deemed unsafe and vacated in 2008. A recent inspection from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources revealed asbestos and hazardous levels of mold inside the building. No entry is allowed.
The board heard from Gary Gentry, of Gentry Construction Inc., who shared his professional opinion on the challenges of restoring the Fine Arts Building. He estimated it would cost $3 million to renovate the building. He said an architectural designer would be needed to give the most accurate cost, but the fee could be around $200,000.
Gentry, who said he had been inside the building and on its roof before it was shut down, believes the entire inside would need to be gutted. He said the facility needs a new mechanical system, electric, plumbing, heating and roof. Current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and egress standards, he said, would also require an elevator as well as moving the stairway or adding another.
Gentry said the exterior walls of the building are not re-enforced.
“If there was complete renovation of the inside of that building, how would the exterior withstand the stress?” board member Leon Slape asked.
“It would be my opinion that the non-reinforced, masonry walls of that building will not hold the new load,” Gentry said. “Basically, you would build a new building on the inside of the current building that would support the floors, stairways, elevator shaft, roof structure and the existing walls. It would be very expensive.”
Gentry said he understood the historical significance of the building, which was constructed locally as the new high school in 1921. But he expressed concerns about the cost of restoration and if the building met the needs of today’s students.
“If those people were here today and knew the situation, would they want the additional money spent on the building to preserve it in their name and make it a monument to them? I don’t think they would,” Gentry said. “In my opinion, it will cost at least twice as much per square foot to renovate that building than build new construction. The building was a true asset to this school district in its day, but that day is gone.”
The district re-established the deadline for demolition bids until noon May 31. Dill said the initial deadline passed without a bid, although several companies expressed interest.
Five citizens –– Ila Jean Farris, John Impey, Karen Cavanaugh, Jim Cavanaugh and Jeff McNiell –– shared opinions as patrons about the situation to the board.
“I think it’s important for the school and community to work together. I don’t want hard feelings, and I don’t want people holding grudges because they didn’t get their way,” Slape said. “I think we need to come back to the ground level of the students –– what’s best for them and move forward.”
Also at the meeting, school board members:
•Voted to hire Alyssa Wildhaber (middle school cheer sponsor), Lillard Davis (high school social studies), Joleen Sharpe (paraprofessional), Elizabeth Williams (elementary teacher), Pauline Marsh (Title 1 paraprofessional), Christina Smith (custodian) and Kaylon Buckner (middle school health). Smith’s hire was effective immediately. The others were for the 2016-’17 school year.
Accepted five resignations from current teachers: Ruthanne “Andi” Scheets (Title I reading), Nathan Christeson (middle school football coach), Tony Overy (bus driver and bus maintenance), Ashli Todaro (junior class sponsor) and John Jordan (assistant high school girls’ basketball coach).
•Heard from Dill that the district had unknowingly been in violation with regulations regarding asbestos inspections. Dill said the district self-reported the violations to the Environmental Protection Agency, which said no fines will be levied for the violations.
Inspections are required every three years. Dill said they should have been conducted – and were not – in 2009, 20012 and 2015.
The first missed inspection occurred under a previous administration. Dill said he was unaware of the required inspections until they were brought to his attention. He said he immediately contacted the EPA, and a representative was on campus last Thursday.
•Discussed the possibility of moving graduation to a different day of the week than Saturday. No vote was taken.
•Considered adding a student liaison to the board of education –– a move the Ava school district recently made. No vote was taken.
•Approved the fiscal year 2017 budget.
•Heard the Food Service Committee held its inaugural meeting after forming in response to patron concerns.
•Received program evaluations from Joyce Jones (food service), Brent Kell (athletics) and Dill (comprehensive school improvement plan).
•Recognized Jason Pounds and the Scholar Bowl team, which won districts and sectionals to advance to state for the second time in school history.
“The building was a true asset to this school district in its day, but that day is gone.”
Superintendent Scott Dill has granted a request for a Q&A session with the Herald regarding the Fine Arts Building. Have a question you want answered? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch a live video as the Houston Herald tours the Fine Arts Building at 9 a.m. Friday on the newspaper’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/houstonherald