Originally created 05/26/01

Neighbors criticize demolition of gatehouse



A shallow hole of red dirt at the Walton Way entrance of Augusta State University is all that remains where a historic structure stood for 60 years.

The destruction of the Augusta Arsenal gatehouse has left residents of the neighboring Summerville community and local historians shocked and concerned that the state school might have plans to destroy additional historic buildings on campus without warning.

"The real concern is (the school's) lack of concern for the fact that they are in the middle of a residential neighborhood," said Sandra Blackwood, president of the Summerville Neighborhood Association.

The school is located in the middle of the Summerville Historic District, but because it is run by the state, it is not required to adhere to the community's standards for construction and renovation, which would have prohibited the gatehouse demolition.

Ms. Blackwood said she hadn't heard from the school since December concerning the gatehouse. When she answered the phone about 10:30 a.m. May 14, she was shocked to learn that the building her neighborhood group had launched a campaign to save was being torn down.

A friend who was stopped at a nearby traffic light witnessed the demolition and called to let her know.

Ms. Blackwood jumped in her car and drove to the site from her home on Monte Sano Avenue.

"It took maybe two minutes, and by the time I got there, there was almost nothing left," she said. "It was just gone and leveled in no time."

The gatehouse demolition has sparked concerns that the same thing might happen again with a bigger, older and more significant structure, she said.

Built in 1941, the gatehouse was part of a massive construction campaign in Augusta that began shortly after the start of World War II. What is now Augusta State's campus was formerly the U.S. Arsenal in Augusta.

The arsenal expanded rapidly in the early 1940s to aid in the manufacturing of bombsights and lens instruments for the war effort. The gatehouse was designed to add security to the area.

The old brick and mortar building had been used as a campus police station in recent years. It was leveled, in part, to make way for a new entrance to the college's campus from Walton Way, aligning the entry with Fleming Avenue, located across the street.

The school's neighbors say they were led to believe that the university would consider alternatives to the demolition before tearing anything down.

School officials contend they have always said that the expense of relocating the building was too great. And, they said, the realigned road is necessary to better serve the needs of students, all of whom commute to the campus.

Kathy Hamrick, special coordinator for academic and master planning for Augusta State, said the school held three meetings between October and December at which plans for the gatehouse were discussed.

"We told them and told them and told them that we had no choice," Ms. Hamrick said. "And then, we had no choice."

The school placed estimates for relocating the gatehouse at more than $300,000, which was too much for a state school to justify to taxpayers, Ms. Hamrick said.

"We've done a lot of work trying to save a lot of buildings," she said, pointing out several other arsenal buildings and some historic homes that have been renovated and preserved by the school.

"We can save a lot of buildings and save taxpayers' money, but sometimes, choices have to be made when you can't save a building."

The school gets permission to demolish historic buildings from the state Department of Natural Resources' historic preservation division and the Board of Regents.

The final OK to tear down the gatehouse came from an executive order signed by Gov. Roy Barnes.

"It's unfortunate that it went down," said Erick Montgomery, executive director for Historic Augusta Inc. "The way it came across - it just was kind of sneaky."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.