City discusses demolition of school

Published 5:07 pm Monday, September 16, 2019

The City of LaGrange is currently reviewing options for the Dawson Street School property in the Dixie Mill community, and while the future use of the property remained unclear during the city council’s last work session, the actual school building’s days may be numbered.

“At the last work session, we had a request brought forward from Hillside Montessori School to basically donate that land and demolish that building, and [the city council] asked staff to get some quotes on how much it would cost to demolish that building, so we did have an RFP that we put out,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “We only received one bid for demo, and that was $449,000. That includes the asbestos removal.”

Kelsey said the price also included hauling materials to the landfill. Council Member Mark Mitchell asked if having the tipping fee waived at the landfill would improve the price. Kelsey said that the majority of the materials would need to go to a construction and demolition landfill, like the one owned by the county, and she said the city typically does not waive tipping fees. However, in some cases, like with the demolition of the Mansour’s building, the city has essentially paid itself a tipping fee, creating a budget neutral expense. 

Mayor Jim Thornton said that the proposed demolition and the proposed donation are two separate issues, and he said that the building needs to come down regardless of its future use, calling the building “an eyesore in that neighborhood and that community.” However, the two issues were tied together in the minds of several council members during the discussion.

“I know a request for the property has been put in. I know we have to deal with it, but asking us to spend half a million dollars so that we can give property to somebody else [doesn’t feel right],” Council Member Nathan Gaskin said.

Council Member Willie Edmondson said that he felt the neighborhood needed something like a school, but he was also shared hesitancy on spending city funds to demolish the old school prior to donating it. 

However, Thornton still argued that the building should be demolished regardless of whether the property is donated.

“Philosophically, my problem is we’ve got demo orders on private property all over this town,” Thornton said. “We’ve got a building in downtown LaGrange that Alton [West, City of LaGrange community development director,] has gone out and written demo on the side of it, and we’ve got a contract to demo. It is a private property owner, and it is in bad shape. The City of LaGrange has got a building that has got plywood windows and doors and is unfit for human habitation. We’re not applying that same rule to ourselves that we are applying to property owners all over town of taking down property.”

Council members brought up different ideas to help fund the demolition including grants.

The city council also briefly discussed the possibility of donating city-owned land around the school to Hillside Montessori in order to temporarily bypass the demolition issue. However, Hillside Montessori Head of School Bethany Headrick said that school’s plan requires 7 to 10 acres of land, and she would have to discuss if the school could use a smaller space with Hillside Montessori’s board.

The city council ultimately requested that city staff ask what the price of demolition would be if the tipping fee was waived and asked that they discuss the possibility of waiving the fee with the county.

In August, Hillside Montessori, a nonprofit, requested the city donate the unused property to the school so that it can establish a larger campus in a residential area. The private school is currently located in the Hillside community. 

Hillside Montessori has also reportedly been offered land by a private donor in another part of the city, but when board members spoke in an August council meeting, they said that they would like for the growing school to be a part of a neighborhood community. 

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Ave.