Commissioners Tour Former Nelsonville High School, Seek Solution To Window Project

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A six-month extension for spending some grant money is being sought by the Athens County Commissioners while efforts are made to come up with a workable project to replace some of the windows at the former Nelsonville High School.

On Tuesday, the commissioners toured the building, which — along with the adjacent former junior high — was acquired by the Nelsonville Restoration Foundation in 1999. The foundation's goal is to save the Fayette Street buildings from demolition and put them to new uses, and some improvement and preservation projects have been undertaken over the years.

The commissioners have proposed spending $21,900 in Community Development Block Grant funds, coupled with $1,700 from the foundation, to replace 10 large windows and one smaller one in the gym of the high school building. The project was bid twice in September, but no bids were received.

Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action administers the county's CDBG grants, and Jessie Powers of Community Action said a request for proposals from contractors was sent out to get a better idea of what they thought it would cost to do the project. Two responses were received earlier this month, with one company quoting a price of $77,000 and the other quoting $39,400 — both amounts above the available funding.

Powers said a meeting will be held this Friday with a window supplier, Community Action, an architect and the foundation to discuss the project.

County Commission President Lenny Eliason said the goal is to come up with a design that will lessen the cost. The alternative, Eliason said, would be to do only part of the project now and use future grant funds for the rest.

The project is complicated by the fact that the buildings are in Nelsonville's historic district, and the window design must meet historic preservation guidelines.

On Tuesday, the commissioners toured both buildings. Eliason had seen the buildings previously, but newer commissioners Charlie Adkins and Chris Chmiel had not.

"When you are putting money into it, it's important to see what your putting money into," Eliason said.

The windows that would be replaced are in the gym of the former high school. Bill L'Heureux, treasurer of the foundation, told the commissioners during the tour that the gym — which is leased by Global Gymnastics — provides the foundation its main source of income.

Dorothy Gettle, chairwoman of the foundation, told the commissioners that in the past there have been developers who expressed an interest in the buildings, but have mainly been interested in the junior high building. Constructed in 1907, the building has tin ceilings.

"The bones of this building are just so cool," L'Heureux commented during the tour.

Both buildings need a great deal of work, but the foundation has concentrated on the high school building, in part because of the gym and its income potential. For example, handicapped-accessible restrooms were installed. Other projects have also been done.

"We're fixing things as soon as we can," L'Heureux said. "It's very overwhelming at times. … Time and money, that's what it takes."

Chmiel suggested getting the county planner involved in the foundation's efforts.

A new roof was installed on the high school building in 2004, and Gettle said the junior high building needs a new roof if it is to be preserved. She said the foundation has been patching leaks.

Gettle also said during the tour that the Nelsonville Food Cupboard, a local food pantry, has expressed interest in possibly using space in the former high school building.