The Herald Bulletin

August 20, 2013

South Madison gets the OK to demolish old school

Attorney says board would wait 1 year for ideas

By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin

PENDLETON, Ind. — Editor's note: This article originally contained a passage suggesting that the public would have a 12-month period to come up with uses for the old school building. But no such waiting period will be observed; the building is earmarked for demolition.

After a failed attempt last year, the South Madison Community School Corp. once again approached the Pendleton Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday evening for permission to demolish the old high school building. A 2-1 vote gave that approval.

“We all would love the school building to stand,” said school district attorney Jack Hittle. But it’s just no longer financially feasible, he added.

Earlier this year, Madison Circuit Court 6 Judge Dennis Carroll denied the school district’s petition to throw out the commission’s earlier decision to deny demolition because he ruled the school corporation hadn’t “satisfied its burden as a matter of law” by proving the building is incapable of earning an economic return on its value.

The school district submitted a feasibility study with its application Tuesday evening that Hittle said showed dramatic remodeling changes would have to be made to meet building codes. And, he added, the building just isn’t capable of earning an economic return on its $104,000 value right now.

The district is spending $30,000 a year just to let it sit, Hittle said. And the school corporation says it doesn’t need the building for space.

As an example comparison, Superintendent Joe Buck said it would be cheaper to tear the building down, add parking spaces and classrooms to Pendleton Intermediate than it would be to remodel the old high school.

With South Madison spending over $50,000 in legal fees last year regarding the topic, Hittle said, he urged the commission to accept the application to demolish to avoid more.

“Things are changing. We need to ask ourselves is that a good use of our money,” he said.

The old school in question sits empty in the middle of Pendleton Elementary School’s campus — composed of the intermediate elementary, 301 S. East St., and the primary elementary, 327 S. East St.

Discussions of what to do with the old school have been in the works since 2006 and Hittle said “the reality” is that no one has stepped forth with an usable idea.

In March 2012, the school board unanimously voted to demolish the three-story building that was originally built as Pendleton High School in 1936, transformed into a middle school in 1969 and closed after the new middle school opened in 2009.

School officials say the building is costly to maintain or remodel, dangerous because it’s in a state of disrepair and that no acceptable private use has been suggested or would be appropriate.

Renovation estimates have been marked as high as $5 million. Board President Chris Boots has stated that costs have been estimated at $600,000 to demolish and build a parking lot.

Preservationists say the building is still structurally sound and could be used in a variety of ways, such as a senior citizens community center, 4-H building, performance space or teen community center.

Those on both sides of the issue were given the chance to voice their thoughts Tuesday evening. The commission voted 2-1 to approve the application for demolition.

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