Public has chance to share opinions on future of Alta's old high school building

Friday, November 16, 2012

The future of the 1916 Alta High School was the topic of discussion at a second community meeting last Thursday.

There was a larger turn out from the first community meeting help in September and more questions and comments were shared,

Supt. Evans led the meeting.

The 1916 building is a solid structure with masonry walls, concrete floors (floor one and two with the third floor made of wood), like most schools built pre-WWII.

The structure had two additions through the years. One included the construction of a two-story gym and stage and the other expanded the vocation space.

When planning for sharing with Aurelia in 2009, and discussing where the students would be educated, an architect was brought in to access the building and gave the school board an estimate for renovation, looked at the code compliance and identified deficiencies.

The structural, mechanical, and electrical systems were also looked at.

Some of the issues brought up that the architects found needed attention were the electrical system, the boiler, the ventilation, the climate controls and the lighting. The building does not meet American Disabilities Act codes and there is asbestos throughout the building.

To renovate the building, the architects further stated, would cost an estimated $1.2 million - and that did not include updating the ventilation, air quality or climate control.

As this was an estimate made three years ago, those costs may have increased.

In 2009, estimates were also obtained for how much it would cost to raze the building. At that time, it was estimated that asbestos removal would cost $133,600 and demolition would cost $148,500 for an estimated cost of $300,000.

Currently, the building is being used to house two 4-year-old classrooms and a Head Start classroom, as well as the superintendent/central office. The building also still holds some custodial supplies. Supt. Evans told the audience that if a decision was made to demolish the building, that those classrooms and office could be moved to the lower campus without there causing a space problem. Until a decision is made, he said, it is important that the to use the building rather than leave it empty as that has a worse affect on a structure.

It was asked why the gym and shop area be maintained if the decision is made to demolish.

The gym is used by the pre-school classes and for practices and wrestling meets continue to be held in the old gym. The wrestling room is now located in the former music room. It was pointed out that there would not be room for a wrestling room the size it is currently, in the new building.

the shop continues to be used by the A-A FFA.

Granted, it is costing $8,700 annually to insure the building and it is still costing $25,000 (on average) for utilities. Keep in mind that custodial work is still needed at the building as well as annual maintenance.

The school board has discussed four options:

* keeping the gym and the shop area

* repurposing the building

* selling it

* razing

The building was compared to South Elementary School in Storm Lake. At one time, a firm was in contact with the school board about converting the building to apartments. There was talk whether that could be done to the Alta building. Supt. Evans said the board has not directed him to make any contacts with that firm but he said he would if that's a direction they would like to take.

That idea was voted down in Storm Lake in fear of low income housing and the type of renters that may live there. Some in attendance at the Alta meeting, who live across the street from the building, agreed they would not want to see that.

It was also pointed out by Mayor Ron Neulieb how other communities converted old school buildings to community centers, offices, even putting a swimming pool in the Sutherland building.

Megan Peterson said she would like to see a community fitness center come out of the reserved part of the building; adding she would be the first to sign up to use it.

Supt. Evans told the group that no one has come to him and asked to buy the building and he said he wants to be careful to put a "for sale" sign out in front.

Because the structure is a government entity, he said, and someone wants to buy it, they would have to sell it. Supt. Evans and the board agree they would not want to see someone purchase the building and get half way through a project and walk away from it and neither would they want to leave an empty building in the the middle of the town; both would bring about bad feelings of seeing an eye sore every time it was passed.

It was asked how much the building would be sold for if someone did want it.

"We would make it worth their while if someone wants to buy it and benefit the community," Supt. Evans said. "This isn't a moneymaking opportunity. We just want it to be something that could benefit the community."

"I'd say tear it down and be done with it," said Don Binder.

Mark Falck agreed saying, "We can't drag this out too much longer," and continue to pay the utilities and insurance.

While sharing is going good with Aurelia, the scenario was put out there - would the old building be needed if sharing is discontinued and all of the Alta students need a place to be educated?

Supt. Evans added that if that were to happen, and he is not anticipating that, space would be relieved at the new high school making a spot for the middle school students.

It was asked if there is a time line and Supt. Evans said there is not.

Gary Launderville said he would like to see the board proceed at a quicker pace and to set a time line.

"Things aren't going to get any cheaper," he pointed out.

Supt. Evans also pointed out that if it were decided that the building would be demolished, an auction would be held to give people a chance at purchasing cabinetry trim, doors and floors throughout the building to get some costs back.

Mayor Neulieb said he "commends the board" for their considerations but it is now time to make a decision. "It's a hard decision for the board to make."

Launderville agreed adding, "We have a good board and superintendent and I have in them."

The school board will not make any decisions without getting input from the community. Another meeting will be held in the near future.

Anyone with ideas on what to do with the building are encouraged to call Supt. Evans at 200-1010.