Residents hoping to save a small portion of an historic school took their pleas to the Harnett County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning.
During the board’s work session, residents of the Boone Trail community told commissioners they would like to see the front entry room and the granite name preserved as a memorial and tribute to the former school.
The building was devastated by fire on May 4 and condemned by the fire marshal’s office. Now, the residents are asking for the county’s assistance.
Dr. Eldon Sloan detailed what the group would like to see done. He said saving the central entrance to the building could provide an historic reminder of what once stood and what the school meant to the community and students.
“We really do want to save it,” he said. “If we do, it will be there for many generations. I don’t know of many things in our whole lives we can say that about.”
Sloan proposed cutting away the walls and structure, which encase the central entrance, and using it as an entry to the proposed park, which county officials have indicated would take the building’s place once the demolition of the current structure is completed.
It would go as an enhancement to the community center and library the county is attempting to bring back to full service to the community following the fire.
“This is structured so it forms a room,” Sloan said of the central entrance. “This pretty much a building. So it’s more structurally sound than a wall standing by itself.”
Sloan told the panel the small structure, with it’s location on a small rise, would be a highly visible reminder of what once stood at the spot.
“It will function as a gateway into the park behind it as it is developed,” he said. “This thing is older than any of us now. And if it survives for more generations...It’ll be because what we did today.”
While commissioners are sympathetic to the resident’s desire to save as much as they can of the building, they have several concerns, including asbestos abatement and whether or not the structure is sound enough to survive.
“In terms of the structure, obviously there was asbestos in the building and fire complicated that a little bit more,” Assistant County Manager Brian Haney said. “(Abatement) would have to take place. Keeping in mind efforts to salvage the structure, given the fire, may not be successful in the process.”
One idea was to save as many bricks from the fire as possible, now even that looks doubtful according to Haney.
“You have to clean each individual brick before you could give it to the community,” Haney said. “The contractor wouldn’t even give us a quote because he’s worried about the liability of doing that. So that may not be possible.”
There’s also the cost factor. According to General Services Director Barry Blevins, it could cost the county around $35,000 to save the entrance, if it can be done at all. Blevins said the contractor hired to demolish the building can’t guarantee success in saving the entrance.
“One thing he said was he’s not going to guarantee it. He just can’t guarantee it,” Blevins said. “What he said was if he knocks it down, he may keep a portion of it back and won’t charge so much. He said because he couldn’t guarantee it and he didn’t want to go that way. He couldn’t guarantee he could bring the sign down.”
Blevins said the contractor is facing multiple obstacles to achieve what residents are hoping. There are issues with trees adjacent to the structure and what could happen if they’re removed.
“He has to go back behind it when the walls are down and clean all those materials inside that are asbestos laden,” Blevins said. “So, he says, yes, theoretically it could be done, but he couldn’t guarantee it.”
The commissioners agreed to allow a structural engineer, provided at no cost to the county, to examine the entrance and offer his evaluation before deciding how to proceed to best meet what the community is hoping to see.
“I guess the question would be, if the contractor feels that he can try it and that’s all we can do,” Harnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gordon Springle said. “All we can do is try and save what we can.”