Refitting costs a concern in Gas



January 22, 2014 - 12:00 AM

GAS — Kenny Baker posed the question that brought to a head a Thrive Allen County community conversation here Tuesday night.
“No one knows what it’s going to cost” to refit the old Gas School so it might be used in any number of ways to benefit the community, said Baker, a Gas councilman. “We need to look at the roof, at the whole structure.”
The conversation generally was to set goals for Gas, but specifically discussion centered on the school, which Gas purchased from USD 257 late last year for $1. The school was built in 1962, held various lower-level grades and ended its time as a classroom complex for Crossroads, an alternative for high school students. In a cost-saving measure the district abandoned the school, moved Crossroads students to the old administration building on North Cottonwood Street and essentially gave the building and about four acres to Gas.
The building contains a gymnasium, two classrooms, office area, kitchen and restrooms.
Jane Burns, another council member, agreed with Baker, saying that before any concrete plans were laid, the council, which would have to finance repairs, needed to know what costs would be.
Mayor Darrell Catron said in the short time the school had been the city’s, Steve Robb, city superintendent, had done some repairs and also estimated a full overhaul would cost about $45,000. Don Burns, a Gas resident and USD 257 employee, allowed the roof had had nagging problems for years, which the district’s crew never had been able to deal with satisfactorily.
Jack McKarnin said razing the school and erecting “one of those new metal buildings on a slab, which aren’t all that expensive” might be better than fixing up the school.
In any event, McKarnin said the “land is an asset, a big plus. We have it available for whatever we want to do.”

THE SESSION started with goal-setting, led by David Toland, Thrive executive director. From the start the school was the focal point.
Things mentioned included a senior citizen annex, a place for kids’ activities, new city hall, small grocery or pantry, library, fitness destination, meeting space, daycare, emergency management post, business incubator and even a private school.
“The ANW Cooperative needs space badly,” said Catron. “Maybe they would be interested.”
A suggestion, which drew some interest, was to consider removing the school and opening all or part of the site for housing.
In any event, a storm shelter seems a likely addition.
For some time Gas has discussed a community shelter that would be handicap-accessible — even has sought grants — and when the school was purchased council members thought the grounds would be an ideal site. A large parking area would permit residents to drive close to a shelter.
Gas has seven small shelters scattered about town; none are handicap-accessible.
Kathy Ward, a Thrive board member from Moran, said she thought the school afforded many possibilities and likened it to the community-senior center in Moran, which Allen County put up several years ago.
“That’s the best thing that has happened to Moran in years,” Ward said. “It’s used all the time,” for club meetings, meals, fundraisers, receptions, parties and senior events.
“Maybe you should look at what they’ve done in other towns with old schools,” said Gary McIntosh, mentioning Kincaid and Stark. Efforts in Elsmore and Savonburg also were noted.
Larry Robertson, a councilman, suggested bringing county commissioners aboard, pointing out they have a financial stake in senior centers in Iola, Humboldt, LaHarpe and Moran.
“I think they would be receptive,” said McIntosh, a former county commissioner.

“YOU HAVE an opportunity with the building,” Toland said in summation. “You’re fortunate you can decide what to do with all this real estate that you got for just $1. You control your destiny.”
Thrive would be an ongoing partner as much or little as Gas wanted, Toland added.
“At this point it’s all up to you, we’ll help you to the extent you want,” he said.
His recommendation, which the three council members attending and Mayor Catron took to heart, was to get cost estimates for making the building completely usable and find out what others did with old schools or similar buildings.
When that is done and decisions are made, Thrive “may be able to help you find resources,” through grants or the Allen County Community Foundation, Toland said
Susan Michael, its director, gave a brief explanation of the foundation. She pointed out that people eager to help make Gas better could contribute to the foundation, which would manage the funds and within its greater whole would earn more interest income.
She mentioned bequests, outright donations and memorials as ways people could contribute.
“It’s the preferred way to manage money and have it for perpetuity,” Michael said.

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