What to do with Ruth School?

County Commission weighs options
Mar. 06, 2014 @ 04:43 AM

The Rutherford County Commission may have accepted a report on the re-use of the former Ruth School, but the question remains of what to do with the buildings.

Despite being run-down and having some significant issues, some believe there is hope for the school which has been out of operation since 2005 when Rutherford County was deeded the land and the building.

Jessica Trotman, with Isothermal Planning and Development — the group who put the report together — said the buildings on the 10 acres contain issues which require mitigation if the campus is to be used for anything.

“There has been significant water damage to the main building,” Trotman said. “We found minor damage to the gymnasium but it does have a lot of issues you would expect like lead paint.”

The plan was developed due to the U.S. 221 expansion project. The North Carolina Department of Transportation requires a plan be in place for any historic buildings not presently in use. The Ruth School was constructed in 1926 and was used until 2005.

The report included results of a survey of which 286 residents participated. Trotman said 74 percent of those surveyed felt that tax support for rehabilitation was appropriate and 36 percent said “it was very important to move forward to salvage the buildings.”

“The survey showed there was a lot of interest in it and that Rutherford County government should use tax dollars for the process,” Trotman said.

The plan presented to county commissioners had three options for the campus. The first was to divest the campus by tearing down the buildings or selling the property. A second option was to stabilize the buildings to be used as an asset in the future. The final option was to stabilize the campus and rehabilitate the buildings for use.

But, even stabilizing the buildings for future use comes with a price tag. County Planner Danny Searcy said the minimum cost to stabilize the buildings would be between $30,000 and $40,000.

“There’s a lot of large beautiful windows and doors that would have to be boarded up,” Searcy said.

However, he said it would take time to develop solid cost projections for any of the three options.

“We would like to look at the three concepts and put figures down,” Searcy said. “We want to look at stabilization as well as restoration and get some real estimates instead of ball park figures.”

Besides the abundance of lead paint throughout the buildings, Trotman said there was the possibility of asbestos being present in the structures. Searcy said the preliminary cost estimates to mitigate any asbestos could run as high as $300,000. He said that estimate could be lowered if the removal of asbestos doesn’t require demolishing walls in the structures.

Trotman said the special committee appointed to look at options for the campus did develop some ideas such as using the campus as a rest area for tourists and for a visitors center. The committee also suggested adding wireless Internet capabilities, commercial food sales, a fuel station and an area for local artists to display work. There was also discussion about using part of the campus for a Veterans Memorial.

The committee also suggested the possibility of using the Mayberry Gym for youth sports as well as an area for walking. Trotman said the area could be used for office space, a dog park or a playground.

The vision established by the committee for the property was to use it as an asset to the community and as a gateway, be respectful to the historic nature of the buildings, connect to other assets in the county and make the property safe and inviting.

She said it was difficult to project how much any of those options would cost.

“The utility costs for any of these options is very tough to gauge because it was previously used for school use,” Trotman said. “That is a lot different than retail or anything like that.”

Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen said it will take, at least, 30 days for county staff to develop more accurate cost projections.

“These are large dollar items,” Classen said. “Each of the options that were brought up have their own hybrids.

“We’ve got to be able to stabilize the building the best way possible.”