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School gym demolished despite pleas to save it

Posted at 4:53 PM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 20:23:26-04

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ind. --  A group of concerned citizens is trying to save an elementary school gym from being demolished, but it may already be too late.

The Fayette County School Corporation is tearing down Alquina Elementary school, which closed at the end of the 2010-2011 school year due to declining enrollment and funding.

Brayton Johns, a former student at the elementary school, and other residents presented a plan to turn the school gym into a community center where people could play sports and exercise.

Fayette County ranks among the worst in the state when it comes to health. Obesity and drug use are big problems.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity for people to rent out the gym for different things, and a place for the community to meet,” said Johns. “It’s really disheartening.”

The Fayette County School Board voted down their plan after no public discussion, according to Johns.

“They voted it down right away, not asking any questions of us, not really wanting to help us improve our plan,” said Johns.

A statement from school district said the plan failed to include “firm financial information” and “no firm dollar figures.”

“The proposal didn’t have some things in it,” said Johns. “But, I feel like true leaders would work with the community to better it. It’s just really sad because there’s been a school on that property before 1890.”

Johns said it was odd that the administrators and board seemed to have their minds made up.

“We just feel like there has to be more to the story,” said Johns. “A lot of things don’t add up.  It’s just sad as a young person to see my community going through a lot and them not wanting to explore things.”

Johns said he’s aware of only one other public gym in the community.

“Our Boys and Girls club was closed down,” said Johns.

The contractor declined RTV6’s request to get video of the demolition.

The Fayette County School Corporation declined to do an on camera interview with RTV6, but sent the following statement:

The Alquina and Orange schools were closed at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.  The buildings have been used for storage of surplus supplies, but have not been used for any other purpose.  Minimal heat was continued in both buildings until the propane shortage two winters ago when our propane supplier suggested we drain the tanks at those locations and use that fuel at our Fayette Central building so we could continue to have school.

Approximately two years ago I appointed a Board Committee to begin discussions on what to do with the closed buildings.  Our insurance carrier was concerned with continuing to insure empty buildings.  Looking at some of the surrounding communities, the committee did not want to saddle the Alquina and Orange communities with an eyesore of a vacant, run down building as can be seen in other communities around this area.  To honor a commitment that was made during the conversation about closing the schools, September 2, 2015 was selected as the date to hold a public meeting to hear suggestions on what to do with the buildings in Alquina and Orange.

Three suggestions came forward: a boot camp for troubled youth (primarily elementary aged children); a restaurant; and housing for assisted living.  The Committee, after hearing the proposals, decided to ask for formal business plans to see how well thought out the proposals were and if the groups had the financial means to start a business and maintain it over time.  Fayette County School Corporation had a previous experience where a building was sold to an individual who was not able to maintain his business and the vacant building still looked like a school and the Committee wanted to do their due diligence to not repeat that experience.  A business plan model was developed and legal ads were taken out on September 20 and October 7 stating all plans were due November 11, 2015.

No written plans were submitted.  Lacking any public response, at their December 8 meeting the Board granted permission to advertise for the demolition of the Alquina and Orange buildings.  That process was delayed so an environment study could be completed before bids were submitted and opened.  Legal advertising appeared in the February 4 and 11 local newspaper.  Bids were to be opened on February 18 with the Board scheduled to announce the successful bidder at their March 8th Regular Board Meeting.  On February 5, I received an email from Brayton Johns expressing several concerns with tearing down the Alquina building.  At the February 9 Board Meeting, two individuals, Tim Bentley and Art Johns, asked the Board for an extension of the timeline for tearing the buildings down.  Their request was for a 90 day extension.  No action was taken at that meeting, but the Board did appear to be amenable to an extension.

As the Committee weighed the timeline a 90 day extension created, it was decided to open another window for individuals to submit a written, business plan.  Copies of the Board’s expectations for a business plan were available to anyone interested.  The Committee agreed to extend the deadline for written business plans until noon, April 18.  A notice appeared several times in the local paper stating business plans would be accepted until noon April 18 as well as where copies of the expectations could be picked up.  While this was going on, demolition bids were opened on February 18, but contractors were asked to hold those prices until April.

On April 8, 2016 Tim Bentley submitted a proposal.  While a few others called about the properties, no one else submitted a written proposal.  The proposal from Mr. Bentley failed to include firm financial information and there was no request to extend the deadline.  The request as submitted certainly would have added cost to Fayette County School Corporation, but the group had no firm dollar figures to share.  The Board Committee met on April 18, reviewed the plan and had considerable discussion.  At the end of their meeting the Committee was unanimous in their recommendation to the Full Board to reject the proposal submitted and to proceed with awarding the demolition bid.  Those recommendations were carried to the Board at their Regular April Board Meeting and those recommendations passed by a unanimous vote of the six members in attendance.  Only one patron from the Alquina or Orange communities, Art Johns, was present at the meeting and while Fayette County School Corporation provides two opportunities for the public to speak, no one did.  Based on the vote of the Board, demolition contracts were awarded and the work has already begun.