Recycling schools not uncommon in these United States

Friday, March 6, 2009

The pending sale of Marshall County's old Connely School building reminds me of how other communities have turned what could arguably be called a white elephant into a cash cow with varying degrees of success.

By now Marshal County residents have probably realized that what had been a high school and then a junior high on 5th Avenue in Lewisburg is going to be sold at auction to the highest bidder two weeks from today.

The school was transferred from the Board of education to the Lewisburg Housing Authority and then sold for $1 to a non-profit organization with visions of transforming it into a community center with all kinds of activities.

That didn't happen, but consider what happened here and in three other communities that I've visited over the years as people transformed: a high school into an apartment complex; an elementary school into a town hall and office complex; the Hardison School into a county office complex, and; property once occupied by a junior high that is now the location of a county park and a series of homes for elderly people -- independent living, assisted living, and a nursing home with total care.

The high school that my wife attended in Clarksville, Tenn. is a big old brick building that's not too much different from Old Connelly. It's now got a swimming pool off one side of the structure, accessed by one of the more secluded doors to a central hall. One of the more fascinating apartments is what used to be the shop where boys received what was called vocational education. It's got high ceilings, three levels and large windows. Standard classrooms have been cut up into studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. My wife and I toured the place for one of her reunions.

In a small fishing village on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay there's an elementary school that's been converted into a town hall. The old all purpose room is where the town board meets. One of the boys who'd been constantly sent to the principal's office was the mayor when I visited the building. The mayor's office is what used to be the principal's office. The replacement elementary school is built right next door to the old school, raising questions like: Why didn't they just refurbish the old school? In a way they did. It's also providing rent income to the town with tenants who include a dentist and an insurance agent. The rent is low and the place is something of a business incubator for these one-proprietor operations. As their trades grew, they'd move to a more commercial location.

The old Hardison School here in Lewisburg had grades 1-4 and is now used by Marshall County as the election office and voting poll, training rooms and offices for the Emergency Management Agency, county archives, the senior citizens' center, Veterans Services office and the county Solid Waste office.

My classmates and I thought our junior high school in Kensington, Md. looked like a big shoe factory. It was at the crest of a hill overlooking a creek and the building curved around the edge of a plateau that accommodated ball fields. The fields are still there. They're run by Montgomery County. But the brick building was demolished and the rubble was cleared away. A private company built housing for seniors with a continuum of care from independent living to nursing home care. The business couldn't continue to meet the terms of the contract it had with the count, so the county repossessed the real estate and now runs the facility.

What's to become of the old Connolly School is anybody's guess and will be determined by the results of an auction to be held March 20.