‘Back into the hands of the citizens of Garden City’

Garden City mayor talks plans for Garden City Elementary School building

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The Garden City Elementary School building is seen Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

GARDEN CITY, Ala. – The Town of Garden City on Monday night expressed its support for a special gift from the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE). CCBOE Representative Kenny Brockman approached the council, offering the Garden City Elementary School building and property to the Town, once the move is made official by a member of Cullman County’s legislative delegation.  

The Tribune spoke with Garden City Mayor Tim Eskew and CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette Tuesday afternoon about the prospect.

Barnette shared, “Well, we have a lot of facilities, a lot of land that’s still in the school board’s name and that we maintain that we’re not using for our students anymore. Just recently they (the Alabama Legislature) passed a local bill that we could, for instance the Joppa facility, (Rep.) Randall Shedd passed a local bill to move that from our responsibility to give it to the local historical society in Joppa. So, we got to talking; somebody in Garden City asked us to do that with Garden City’s old building and I had mentioned to the mayor that if he wants to bring it up at their town council meeting and see if the Town of Garden City is interested in that, and if they are, I would come back to our board and let them know, and if they’re good with it, then we could start that process. Mr. Brockman, one of our representatives of that area, attended the meeting and he told them that he felt like the board would approve it if they’re interested in it, and they are, so I’ll take it to the board. One of our legislators will have to initiate a local bill to move that title from us to them.”

Eskew said he reached out to several legislators Tuesday morning. He also shared the impact the school’s closing had on the Garden City community in 2014.

“It was a devastating loss for the community, but we worked out a deal with them where they moved the Head Start program and Pre-K are down there, so that still is utilized. There’s not hardly as many children there. When the school closed there were around 100 to 105 children there, and now I think there’s about 50-60 or so there, maybe. I haven’t got a chance to talk to them since they’re in the new year there, but they usually have about two to three classes there,” said Eskew.

“It was a hard-felt hit, because you know, the history and how many years it’s been in use and everything, but all in all, buildings meet their useful need, and it’s a difference for us because we don’t fall under the same standards that the school board does to have to bring the buildings back up to meet the state code as individually like a city would need to. There’s a big difference there.”

Garden City Elementary School was condemned by the CCBOE in Aug. 2014, after former CCBOE Superintendent Dr. Craig Ross released an estimate on the repair costs for the building, which was $885,000. The building is nearing 100 years old, and the repairs needed were due to aging.

Eskew said he is hopeful about future plans for the building.

“We’ve got some ideas; we just have to see what we can do on it and, you know, what we can salvage from the building and see what we can keep. We would like to restore it back to how it looked… when it was closed down and in as good condition as it can be. We were talking last night (at the council meeting). I’ve not talked with any contractors yet because it’s early in the game to get with them, but once we get it started, in that way I feel we can start to kind of liven some people up to where they can start helping us figure out a plan of action toward getting it to what we want. I would like to see it finished back to where it looked like what it did when it closed. There’s a lot of different things that it can be utilized for. It could be a community center for the town, or you know, a senior center; there’s so many things that it can be utilized as. That’s basically where we stand.”

The mayor said he is happy for his community.

“I’m just, you know, right now, so pleased for all the citizens; this is what they’ve all wanted, is the building to come back into the hands of the citizens of Garden City, and I’m just proud of the board at this point.”

Below is the press release Ross shared in 2014 concerning the repairs needed at Garden City Elementary School:

The structural assessment of Garden City was done by Advance Structural Design Inc. We appreciate the work that Mr. Jeff Hillman performed for us. Mr. Hillman is a registered professional engineer. In Mr. Hillman’s assessment of Garden City School, he found five areas with life-safety concerns.

  1. The girls’ restroom: In its current state, the floor framing system, and the exterior foundation wall, is near catastrophic failure. Please note that failure, and repairs, will probably affect both adjacent rooms.
  1. The northwest corner classroom: The ceiling joists, in their current state, are near failure. A single joist connection failure could result in a cascading effect of multiple ceiling joist failures.
  1. Gymnasium—Stage Area: Both the southeast and the southwest corner are near a state of collapse. The vertical wood framing members (studs supporting the stage floor) are severely deteriorated.
  1. The wood landing and stair–south face of the main building: The landing and stair is near catastrophic failure. The wood landing and stair–east side of the gymnasium: The landing and stair is near catastrophic failure.
  1. It appears that the western half of the north exterior wall is experiencing excessive settlement. I recommend that further investigation be pursued to determine the cause of the settlement, and, if the further settlement can be prevented. Additional settlement could present structural issues and/or life-safety issues.

St. John and Associates Engineering firm was hired to assess the civil engineering. Their recommendations were:

  1. Grade around the school will need to be lowered to allow the foundations to drain. This will require a large amount of grading and foundation drain around the building.
  1. Additional storm piping off-site will also be required. Storm pipe easements from adjacent property owners will be needed. Grading estimated at $30,000.00, storm pipe, foundation drainage estimated $40,000.00 replacing curbing, flumes, asphalt and landscaping estimated $40,000.00.
  1. Total estimated cost would be $110,000.00 and could increase.

The following information is referencing the estimated cost of repairing Garden City Elementary School.

Initial Contractor’s estimate for building repair – $650,000

Civil Engineering to correct water/drainage problem- $110,000+

Removal of mold $50,000+

Architectural and engineering fees $75,000

Total Estimated Cost $885,000

In regards to the structural assessment of Garden City Elementary School it is important that we state that the full assessment of the damage cannot be fully determined unless more invasive destructive testing occurs. However, the extensive damage to the building is such that the initial estimates need to be discussed by the Cullman County Board of Education before spending any additional tax dollars on testing. The total estimated cost of repairing Garden City Elementary School therefore cannot be determined until such time as the additional testing is done. The above figure is simply the initial estimate.

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Maggie Darnell

maggie@cullmantribune.com