By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Draper residents would like to preserve the gymnasium/kitchen, cottage and cannery buildings at the old Draper Elementary School, but demolish the rest of the facility.
County officials presented several dozen residents with four options for the former school property at a Tuesday night community meeting held at Draper Fire Department. After around an hour of discussion, residents requested the county pursue a modification of one of the options.
The intention is to give members of the community a chance to see if enough community interest exists to raise money needed to fully renovate, maintain and operate the gym/kitchen building as a community center. The consensus was that additional demolition can take place later, if necessary, but if once it’s gone it can’t be brought back.
The roof of the school sustained significant damage when an F-2 tornado tore through Draper in 2011, leaving most of the school with severe water damage. The county received around $400,000 in insurance for the damage, but residents were told Tuesday the estimated cost to return the old school to its “original state” before the tornado could be $1.6 million.
The second option, around $875,000, was to retain and renovate the gym and kitchen (the oldest part of the school) to maintain part of the community’s history, but make no improvements to the cannery or cottage. A playground and pavilion attached to the gym were included in the option.
Option three would have the entire school building demolished and replaced with a 10,000-square-foot metal building. A separate pavilion would be constructed adjacent to a playground, but the cottage and cannery building would not be improved. This option also was estimated to cost about $1.6 million.
County Engineer Jared Linkous said the option he would have recommended to Pulaski County Board of Supervisors if pressed to do so Tuesday was the fourth option. This option, estimated to cost about $440,000, would demolish the entire school building and replace it with a picnic shelter, restrooms and playground, plus make improvements to the cannery and cottage.
Jack Murphy of Thompson & Litton prepared the options and cost estimates presented at the meeting. He said cost estimates were determined based on projects the company has bid in this area.
The projects included in the first three options were based on feedback received from citizens at earlier community meetings. Assistant County Administrator Robert Hiss said option four was added when cost estimates for the other three options were well beyond the amount of insurance received. “We wanted to have something attainable to present to the community,” he said.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by the citizens was who would maintain the property regardless what option is chosen.
Linkous said that was a “big consideration” in his decision to recommend option four. He said the maintenance required for option four (mowing, etc.) would be a lot less costly than the maintenance required for a building (heating and cooling, electricity, a roof, etc.).
County officials said it would primarily fall upon the community. Huber equated the situation to the Robinson Tract community and its community center. He pointed out the community holds events to raise the funds necessary to keep the facility maintained and operating. He recommended Draper citizens speak with Robinson Tract citizens for advice.
In order to preserve as much of the history as possible, the citizens asked that the county do what is necessary to “buy some time” for them. The insurance money is to be used to demolish all of the school building except the gym and kitchen. Then workers will do what is necessary to stabilize and preserve that building, the cottage and the cannery so that they do not continue to deteriorate.
Hiss noted that any funds that might be left over would be used for improvements to the grounds.