Can the Howard Warner school be saved?

Ideas regarding what to do with the historic Howard Warner School have been tossed around so much it’s beginning to act like a salad.

A couple of years ago, the Newnan City Council appointed the Howard Warner Committee to come up with a few proposals detailing ideas of how to best utilize the space.

Those dedicated local citizens gave several proposals over the last couple of years about the old school. The council even approved one, but it eventually fell apart.

The reason? Money. No one can make it work financially.

First built as a school for African-Americans during segregation, the buildings eventually were used by the Coweta County Board of Education, which later deeded the property to the city of Newnan. And the school property has slowly deteriorated.

Most recently, Councilwoman Cynthia Jenkins came up with a plan to convert the property into a community center with a day-care center, gymnasium and playground. It also would include a satellite office for the Boys and Girls Club. The committee unanimously approved the proposal earlier this week.

On paper, it’s a great idea. And Jenkins should be commended for her efforts to help her constituents. That area is in desperate need of some type of community center. The city of Newnan even has $1.5 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money set aside for that very purpose.

The YMCA would operate an early learning day-care center that Jenkins estimated could serve 100 to 150 children. The Boys and Girls Club would also use classrooms. There would be a new gym and a playground built.

Again, a great idea on paper. But a lot has to be done. Even Jenkins said that “this is a starting point. I’ve by no means figured out every detail of operations.”

The question is, again, about money. Jenkins, who serves as mayor pro tem, said her plan calls for demolishing the 1955 addition to the school and replacing it with a gym and playground. The 1935 building would be left and converted into day-care center and also have classrooms for other agencies.

But the massive rehab of the old building —to be outfitted as a licensed daycare center — is estimated by Jenkins to cost between $2 million to $3 million. The gym addition would add another $1.5 million. Add that up and we are in the neighborhood of $3.5 million to $4.5 million.

The city and Coweta County could jointly apply for a Community Development Block Grant and get up to $800,000, according to Jenkins, but that probably won’t be applied for until 2015 because of time constraints.

It’s a noble idea. But even if the city and county got the grant and coupled that with the $1.5 million in SPLOST funds, that $2.3 million total is well off what the project estimates call for.

We encourage Jenkins to continue to work out the operations and numbers. City Council is expected to review the recommendation at its Feb. 11 meeting.

We all hope to see something useful be done with the historic school. But the reality is that the cost may outweigh any benefit, and the council may have to look elsewhere for a community center in that area.

The Howard Warner school may be beyond any useful purpose, purely from a cost standpoint.



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