By Lyra Bordelon
The potential conversion of the Alderson Community Center to a new Alderson Elementary School, the final reading of a $700,000 water bond, and the results of a recent grant survey were the main topics of discussion during the Thursday, October 8, Town Council meeting.
Although not on the agenda for consideration, Mayor Travis Copenhaver addressed the possibility during his report, answering questions around the Community Center and the recent spotting of engineers examining the building.
“Alderson is in the spotlight for the next new school or whatever it is we’re going to do,” explained Copenhaver. “That having been said, they are seriously considering rehabbing the community center.”
Recently, the Greenbrier County Board of Education began examining options around a new Alderson Elementary School, which led to consideration of the Alderson Community Center. The Center’s president, Susan Bowyer, is one of the people the board would have to convince to make this happen.
“I went into it [thinking] ‘No! You’re not taking our building, no!’ but then I got to thinking and talking about it,” explained Bowyer. “Of course our community center board has not voted on it yet. … We’re waiting for when [Greenbrier County Superintendent] Jeff Bryant comes and talks to us, I’m assuming they’ll ask him a lot of questions, then they’ll have a vote. Then you guys [the Alderson Town Council] have to do a vote.”
Copenhaver was also initially opposed.
“What chapped us the most was that we felt like other places got new schools,” Copenhaver said. “Other places got $11, $12 million schools. … Right now the only thing keeping our kids from being bused to Ronceverte and Lewisburg is a turn at the bottom of the road. … I think that is something we have to think about.”
Copenhaver noted Alderson Elementary currently has 206 children. If the Board of Education is able to use the Community Center rather than building a new school, it’s possible the town could get a new school without the county going for a bond referendum.
“They’re estimating around five million to do this project,” Bowyer said. “… They would probably start construction about a year from now, in the fall of 21, and I guess it would take a year to finish. We’re looking at two years. The alternative is, if they could even float the bond, it might be ‘28, ‘29 before they could even think about getting a new school here. And with the population decreasing, the school building association might say [no].”
A team has begun examining the building, and several big updates would have to happen before it could be used as a school, such as the removal of asbestos and lead paint.
“They wanted to preserve the historic integrity of the building,” Bowyer said. “Of course they’d have to build on some classrooms because there’s not enough classrooms in the building, they have to put a cafeteria in the back, lots of things they’d have to do. We had five or six people from the board of education, three engineers, two architects, and they went through every inch of that building, places I never knew existed.”
The Community Center also currently serves as the town’s emergency shelter, which sparked potential concern around it’s future use if it became a school. Copenhaver noted this potential project would not mean it could no longer serve as an emergency shelter for the town, pointing to the use of Greenbrier East High School as a base of operations for the National Guard in some emergencies.
“My number one is that it’s still the shelter and number two is that it is truly an open door community center,” Copenhaver said. “It may not be exactly like it is right now but it could also benefit us in other ways too. If they make it work, I think it could be a show place in the state for buildings that probably shouldn’t be let go … and that maybe [demonstrate] a collaborative effort between a community board and a municipality and county school board. It keeps the taxes down, it keeps the kids here, and it takes care of a building that the group that takes care of it now are all seniors.”
Before anything happens, the Community Center board, the Town Council, and several other organizations have to approve the project.
The third and final reading resulted in the passage of the town’s $700,000 bond ordinance for ongoing water infrastructure projects. Similar to the recent passage of a similar bond read in Ronceverte, including the work of Steptoe and Johnson attorney John Stump, this first part of the project will pay for survey work, engineering, and some of the first steps for an estimated $6 to $7 million water project.
“There’s a whole lot of survey work, so you’ll see a whole lot of Thrasher vehicles,” Copenhaver explained. “The thing is, this is part of what that will fund – we have to have those surveys, we have to have those acquisitions. Part of what this project does is raise the functioning of the plant out of the flood plain so we don’t have [a flooding] issue with the water plant, it’s fixing a tank on the Muddy Creek side, it’s expanding service all the way to Stuarts and all the way to River Side Rest. Places that previously were against annexation will get the benefit of some fire hydrants that will help them drop their homeowners [insurance].”
Copenhaver also announced the preliminary results of the door-to-door survey conducted by Todd Riggs aka “Hoss,” over the past month.
“Now this is the rough estimate, this isn’t official, but 61 percent, we believe, hit where we need to be for the poverty rate,” Copenhaver said. “Hoss got everything done in light speed. We had to have them in by October 1. … Region 4 is tabulating them to get the information back out so everybody helping to get those done is one major thing for us to get [potentially $2 million in] grant money.”
In other business:
Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Kara Dense gave Town Council the organization’s annual report. For more, see the Mountain Messenger’s previous coverage.
Potential motions around the Alderson Bridge Trust Fund were tabled for further consideration.