Demolition has finally begun on the former Jasper Elementary School building located at 720 Betsy Pack Drive — along US-41 in Marion County.
Questions of “what to do?” with the building have stuck around for many years, as residents and city leaders looked at the partially-abandoned and very dilapidated building as a very-noticeable eyesore on a main thoroughfare in the city.
The school building, which opened in the early 1950s to better serve a growing community and offer a better and more centralized location for education in the county, last served students in grades Kindergarten through 4th before the new state of the art Jasper Elementary campus was opened during the 2001-2002 school year.
Since its closure and the move to the new building just down the road on Warrior Drive, the back portion of the old building was given the name “Marion Academy” and housed the classrooms for the county’s Alternative School, in addition to an adult high school program and behavior management class for special needs students before those classes were forced to move out due to concerns over asbestos contamination and a non-functioning fire alarm early in the 2011-2012 school year.
Those classes were shifted to other locations in the county and a new Alternative School building — Central Prep Academy — was built adjacent to Marion County High School on Ridley Drive in the two years that followed. Since that time the back portion of the old building has remained as overflow office space for the Marion County School Board’s Central Office staff and storage for the system’s various departments. The front portion of the building was long since closed and abated for asbestos awaiting whatever possible future it could behold.
In 2013, Jasper city leaders had grown quite impatient with the condition and appearance of the building and lack of any change by the school board.
That’s when leaders asked for a plan for the property from the school board.
One of their main concerns had been that Jasper Mayor Paul Evans had been making a push at that time for residents to clean up their properties, but he cited that many of those responded by pointing out the poor condition of the old school and asking why nothing was being done about it.
The major hold-up for the City in taking action was the fact the land was not owned by the city, but was on county-owned land.
Jasper City Attorney Mark Raines (who also served as attorney for the school board) said at the time there was a plan to demolish the building eventually, contingent on funding.
Talks of a “property exchange” between the county and school board with the city were mentioned and explored regarding land in front of and adjacent to the current elementary school across from the Jasper Park; however, the cost to demolish the building for the city and many other factors including displacing key school system personnel factored too costly for both parties at the time.
Earlier this year the Marion County Board of Education put out for bids to have the unused front portion of the building demolished. Lofty Construction Company of Kimball, TN won the approved demolition bid for $47,000; which was approved by the school board at their June 14th, 2016 regular meeting.
Since June careful planning was made to ensure that the building could be razed while not harming the integrity of the back building which will still be used by the school system for now. In addition to structural studies, electrical re-routing and other important but shared or tied utilities between the two buildings were studied to see the impact it would make. After determining minimum impact and resolving any possible issues; plans went into action early Monday as the first pieces of the building came crashing to the ground just after 9am CDT on a section of classrooms between the main entrance and the cafeteria. By 10:30am, most of the building which housed the cafeteria and kitchens were completely demolished.
While it’s bittersweet for those who went to school in the building, taught (or both, in many cases), or worked there over the years; most would agree that it was time for the building to come down to improve the view in the city. And best of all the beautiful native trees and pines that line the front portion of the property will go unharmed in the demolition with their fall splendor in full display right now for all to see as they pass by.
Plans for the site have still not been formally announced by the school board; however, many anticipate that the site could be built on later for additional or upgraded office space for school employees that have remained in the back portion of the school, if not used by the city or county for another means.
We’ve yet to see the final outcome for this high-visibility piece of property, but the views are definitely going to be different in Jasper for some time to come.