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Options dwindling for old Thorsby school

Wasting away: The old Thorsby school was built in 1925 and closed in 1975. It has sat largely unused since then, as renovations and even demolition would be too costly. (Photo by Stephen Dawkins)

Wasting away: The old Thorsby school was built in 1925 and closed in 1975. It has sat largely unused since then, as renovations and even demolition would be too costly. (Photo by Stephen Dawkins)

As options dwindle, the old Thorsby School sits and wastes away.

Town officials hoped to secure grant funding for demolition of the school, which closed in 1975 when the current school opened, but Mayor Jean Nelson announced at a Town Council Meeting on Jan. 4 that the grant application had been denied.

Because of the existence of asbestos and lead paint, which would have to be disposed of according to federal regulations, Councilman Glenn Littleton said it would cost the town more than $100,000 to demolish the structure.

Nelson said the town submitted the demolition grant application about two years ago and only recently learned of its status.

“They had 26 applications and not enough money to fund them all,” said Nelson, who attended the school like so many other Thorsby residents.

The application could be submitted again in June 2016, but officials have little hope that any resolution is forthcoming.

The dilemma is an old one.

Littleton, who attended the school from 1965-71, and Nancy Huett were members of the Thorsby Historic Preservation Committee, which sought to preserve and renovate the school, which sits off Illinois Avenue close to Thorsby First Baptist Church.

The committee was able to open a museum in Thorsby, help spruce up the Thorsby Scandinavian Cemetery and make improvements to Helen Jenkins Chapel, among other efforts, but it was not able to make headway on the school.

The building was added to Alabama’s historic registry, but that designation, unlike the federal registry, offers no protection.

The committee formulated a plan to renovate the structure in phases. Their intent was to preserve the school while also providing some needed meeting space in the county.

An architect drew renderings, and town officials were set to consider the project—and then the bottom fell out of the economy, with grant money drying up, and other facilities, including Jefferson State Community College’s Clanton Campus and Jemison Municipal Complex, were constructed to meet the need for meeting space.

The plans for a facility with an auditorium, classrooms, banquet hall and catering kitchen have been mothballed since 2007.

“Unless we have a major turnaround, I don’t think we’re going to have anything like that anytime soon,” Huett said.

The building remains structurally sound, Huett said, but the estimate of $1.4 million for renovations make them unlikely.

The school was built in 1925 as Thorsby Public School for grades 1-9. It was later re-named as Thorsby Elementary School.

Littleton said he would hate to see the school torn down—but it might be the only remaining option.

“I know at some point or another, we’re going to have to,” he said.

And it may prove impossible for the town even to demolish the school and be stuck letting the structure sit and fall apart. The old school’s story seems destined for a sad ending.

“Maybe somebody will come along who will take it down for the material,” Littleton said. “There is some good wood in it.”