Preservationists and Davidson alumni renew efforts to save school building

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 2:59 PM
Last updated Thursday, April 26, 2012 1:20 AM
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Historic preservationists and alumni of the former John S. Davidson School have renewed efforts to save the old Davidson school building from demolition.

Warren Campbell, of APD Urban Planning and Management (from left), and Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery accompany Artspace representatives touring the former John S. Davidson School on Telfair Street.   MEG MIRSHAK/STAFF
MEG MIRSHAK/STAFF
Warren Campbell, of APD Urban Planning and Management (from left), and Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery accompany Artspace representatives touring the former John S. Davidson School on Telfair Street.

The Richmond County Board of Education planned to raze the circa-1933 two-story brick school building as early as this summer. Recently, Historic Augusta Inc. offered help to market the old Davidson and four other school buildings with historic significance to preservation-minded buyers.

Benton Starks, the senior director of facilities and services for the school system, said the building has generated little interest from buyers since it was vacated in 1997. The board’s willing to “give one last push” to sell the property and will halt the demolition if serious interest generates in rehabilitating the school.

“We’d love to see that happen, but at some point we’ve got to move on,” Starks said.

More than 1,000 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to saving the old Davidson building. On the page, alumni have discussed potential uses for the building and how to acquire funding.

Heard Robertson, the chairman of Historic Augusta’s real estate committee, said the building could possibly be used as institutional space for future growth of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities. Or, the school could be converted into loft-syle living space similar to the successful restoration of the William Robinson school in Summerville.

On Wednesday, a non-profit Minneapolis-based group called Artspace visited the old Davidson school as part of a two-day trip to the area. At the request of the city, Artspace is studying the feasibility of developing affordable living and work space for artists.

Wendy Holmes, the senior vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace, said school buildings like Davidson convert easily into living spaces. Of Artspace’s 30 projects, five are former school buildings.

“There’s wide hallways to be used as gallery space, tall ceilings, lots of natural light,” Holmes said.

Artspace representatives and employees of APD Urban Planning and Management, the project manager for the city’s Laney-Walker and Bethlehem revitalization efforts, took a brief look at the exterior of the Davidson school but did not tour the inside.

Despite its poor conditions, Robertson, who graduated from the last class in the old school building in 1997, thinks the building’s facade can be saved even if the inside needs significant structural work.

“Historic buildings are art in themselves. It represents the period that created it and it’s an important tie as a community to where we came from,” he said.

While the building has sat unoccupied, the roof caved in and the second floor collapsed onto the first floor. More than $20,000 was spent to construct a fence surrounding the property and board up windows, Starks said.

The school system also has liability concerns with the deteriorating building. Starks deemed the building unsafe and banned school system employees from entering the property.

If the building comes down, Starks said he intends to plant a grassy field and maintain it while waiting on another use for the site.

THE FORMER JOHN S. DAVIDSON SCHOOL

The old Davidson school building, 1102 Telfair Street, was built in 1933. The art moderne-style building was vacated in 1997 when the current Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School opened nearby. The 37,198 square-foot building featuring 29 classrooms is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Historic Augusta.

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Little Lamb
44082
Points
Little Lamb 04/25/12 - 03:11 pm
2
0
I'm sure there's lots of

I'm sure there's lots of natural light in the top storey, since the roof caved in.

floridasun
279
Points
floridasun 04/25/12 - 03:11 pm
6
0
I hope somehow this building

I hope somehow this building can be saved.
Augusta has lost too may historically significant buildings.

Little Lamb
44082
Points
Little Lamb 04/25/12 - 03:12 pm
1
6
A grassy field would be more

A grassy field would be more valuable to the community than that building.

floridasun
279
Points
floridasun 04/25/12 - 04:01 pm
5
0
LL you sure are negative A

LL you sure are negative
A preserved Davidson School, that could contribute to the tax rolls of Augusta, would be much more productive than a grass field

corgimom
28543
Points
corgimom 04/25/12 - 04:31 pm
1
6
Amen, LL! That building is a

Amen, LL!

That building is a severe danger and needs to be razed, the sooner the better.

Where were all the people with their concern when it was closed in 1997?

Sometimes it makes sense to preserve, sometimes it makes sense to raze. This is one of those that needs to be razed.

LuvMyTown
2008
Points
LuvMyTown 04/25/12 - 04:36 pm
6
0
Shame on the School Board for

Shame on the School Board for letting the public investment in this building deteriorate to such an extent by not maintaining the roof.
The building has "generated little interest from buyers" because the School Board has not made any visible effort to market the property - since 1997.

countyman
19178
Points
countyman 04/25/12 - 05:45 pm
0
1
The former Davidson building

The former Davidson building should become mixed-use.. Residential, commercial, and office space.. The building has the perfect location and can help link the Medical District and Central Business District further.. Great spot for Artspace or another type of residential component... The city should be doing everything they can to let Artspace take over the building.. Downtown Augusta is missing another 'artsy' place besides Artist Row... The renovation of the Davidson school, Martha Lester school, Marion building, Woolworth building and Sibley Mill can turn Augusta into a diffrent city overnight.. Luckily two of them are already purchased by a local developer..

story1
791
Points
story1 04/25/12 - 05:43 pm
2
0
Didn't Clay Boardman offer to

Didn't Clay Boardman offer to purchase this building from the BOE 5 years ago? What happened to that offer? There should be a serious review of buildings the BOE is holding and their current condition.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 04/25/12 - 07:31 pm
1
0
Liability concerns. Liability

Liability concerns. Liability concerns? If the building had already been sold by the RCBOE, the school board attorney's paranoid fear of lawsuits arising from the decrepid Davidson structure would possess no focus. Why hasn't the RCBOE pushed the marketing of the old John S. Davidson building? If history is any indicator, the RC school board drags its feet on such a transaction. Look how long it took the RCBOE's attorney to finalize the deal with Bonnie Ruben regarding the purchase of the board's Broad Street headquarters.

The building survived a fire in the 1950s. Hopefully its promoters will show equal resilience in dealing with indolent, procrastinating, myopic educrats' mishandling of it today.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/25/12 - 09:38 pm
2
0
It would take a huge chunk of

It would take a huge chunk of money to turn Davidson into anything worthwhile.

The second floor now sits on the first floor and it needs asbestos abatement.

It would be great to save it, but reality is that nothing has happened in 15 years and nothing will until it is torn down.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 04/25/12 - 10:32 pm
3
0
Maybe Cal and Deke can build

Maybe Cal and Deke can build a baseball stadium there.

Perhaps Jacoby will invest in the property.

And what about a "public-private partnership"?

Sorry. Couldn't resist the humor.

Little Lamb
44082
Points
Little Lamb 04/26/12 - 07:29 am
1
1
Countyman's 5:45 post made

Countyman's 5:45 post made this morning's print edition. It is the theater of the absurd. The building is too small to be a self-contained apartment complex, strip mall, and office park. It is merely a decrepit, two-storey brick building, built in the 1930s, that has no roof and no second floor. It is a shell that needs to be razed.

ColaCountyParent
0
Points
ColaCountyParent 04/26/12 - 07:47 am
0
0
It would be nice if someone

It would be nice if someone would just restore it without a mind to make money. Local performing arts groups could use the space to rehearse and young people's groups could perform there.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 04/26/12 - 10:03 am
0
0
shoot, i believe the open

shoot, i believe the open floor plan makes for an ideal TEE center location

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 04/26/12 - 10:05 am
0
0
and the open roof plan, well

and the open roof plan, well dang there's a downtown stadium. play ball!

madgerman
236
Points
madgerman 04/26/12 - 11:06 am
0
0
The "senior" director of
Unpublished

The "senior" director of facilities and services is a title that seems to indicate that there are other "junior" directors. No wonder our schools are so expensive. Just how many directors do we have. Now for the real questions. Is there a neighborhood close to the site for future use? If we use it in the future, just what are the expansion capabilities? If there is no student base in the immediate area, do we plan on continuing to bus kids from all areas of the county (gas is going to 4 bucks a gallon)? Bottom line, why would we want this plot of land that appears to be a money pit? Sell it to the investor with the most money and get on with business.

rtwahlmeier
6
Points
rtwahlmeier 04/26/12 - 02:18 pm
1
0
They didn't do anythng before

They didn't do anythng before now and
won't now because if the RCBOE sold it
to someone to make a profit and put a business
there they would be showing common sense and
intelligence. It makes MUCH MORE SENSE to let
these properties sit until they fall down and become
dangerous. SELL IT AS IS AND LET THE BUYER
DEAL WITH IT! No more public-private deals!

raul
4203
Points
raul 04/26/12 - 10:08 pm
0
0
Buildt 1933 vacated 1997. 64

Buildt 1933 vacated 1997. 64 years is all the use we get out of a building? Something is wrong with that. Maybe after living in Europe for several years, I got used to buildings being really old.

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