The old John S. Davidson school building on Telfair Street, which has escaped talk of demolition for years, could have another last-minute savior.
After the Richmond County Board of Education voted to demolish the decaying building last week, Minneapolis-based non-profit Artspace contacted a city partner Wednesday to ask it hold off on destroying the 80-year-old school.
Board attorney Pete Fletcher said he was sending an e-mail to school board members Wednesday, asking permission to delay demolition until March 31, which he expects to be approved.
City Administrator Fred Russell said Artspace contacted a staff member with APD Urban Planning and Management, the project manager for the city’s Laney-Walker and Bethlehem revitalization efforts, to ask for time to evaluate their potential use of the building.
Artspace visited Augusta in April at the city’s request to conduct a feasibility study about developing work and living spaces for artists. They are expected to return at the end of March to complete another market study for the project, Russell said.
The 1933-era structure was vacated in 1997 after the Davidson school moved to a new building on 12th Street. Benton Starks, the district’s senior director of facilities and maintenance, said the building was immediately considered for sale but did not go to bid until 2008, when it was valued at $360,000.
Within that time, however, the building, which contains asbestos, began to deteriorate and the roof needed $100,000 in repairs. Because of the leaking roof, the second floor collapsed onto the first floor. The school system also had to board up the windows and erect a $20,000 fence to keep trespassers out.
While board members said they’d like to see the building be sold and used, it has generated little interest because of the need for extensive repairs. Board member Jack Padgett said the district cannot keep the dangerous building vacant forever.
“I think we probably waited enough time,” Padgett said. “We’re looking at years down the road before anyone could market it. It could fall in if we don’t tear it down.”
Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, said besides losing a historic gem, demolition would also cause the city to lose another building to add to the tax rolls.
Montgomery said he wished the bidding process in 2008 had been easier for buyers, and red tape may have discouraged some from pursuing it. In 2008, interested parties had to register online and pay a $250 fee before submitting a bid.
Starks said that process has been loosened and was a “one time thing.”
Montgomery also questioned why the school district doesn’t just give away the property instead of paying $300,000 for demolition.
Starks said giving away an asbestos-filled property is not safe or “as easy as it sounds.” If the district gave the building to a party who did not properly remove the asbestos in line with environmental laws, the school system would be held legally accountable.
He said the demolition is considered to be on hold but not completely cancelled.