Fate of old school building being tested

Published 4:06 pm Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thorsby Mayor Dearl Hilyer (left) reviews plans for the old Thorsby school building with environmental engineer and consultant John Snyder of Tetra Tech, Inc.

Environmental engineers were in Thorsby on Thursday inspecting the old elementary school to see if the historic building could be saved.

The town learned earlier this summer that it had earned a grant to have the school inspected for potential hazards like asbestos and lead-based paint.

The grant, which required no matching funds from Thorsby, comes from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s Brownsfield Program redevelops abandoned or underused sites, removing hazards, so the properties can be used again. Some of the more common hazards besides asbestos and heavy metals found are underground tanks, various kinds of leaks and spills and pesticides.

The crew in Thorsby on Thursday was primarily looking for lead paint and asbestos. The old school also had a problem with bats and owls.

If lead paint and asbestos are thought to be in the building, engineers will return later to take samples for testing.

Mayor Dearl Hilyer said it’s hard to say what will happen to the building. It depends on what engineers find or what the EPA might require the town to do, up to tearing the building down.

“We don’t know where that will lead us until we get there,” Hilyer said.

The report will include a “clean-up” plan and recommendations for the town, including cost estimates.

Preservationists want to convert the school into an auditorium. Part of the inspection process is to meet with citizens to learn more about the building’s history.

Hilyer said there’s no set timeline on how long it might take engineers to finish their report.

The first phase of the Brownsfield Program offers municipalities grant money to inspect buildings for hazards. Once engineers finish their report, the town will be able to go after more grant money to abate any problems found and then redevelop the property.

The building quit being used as a school in the 1970s, but has since been used as a gym and haunted house, among other things. An Alcoholics Anonymous group still meets in the back of the building.