CENTRAL — Supporters of preserving the Central High School gym built in 1927 have until Sept. 17 to raise $10,000 to stop the old wooden building’s imminent demolition.
If they raise the money by then, the Central School Board will give them until mid-March to come up with a viable plan to refurbish the condemned gym, known by many as the girl’s gym.
Supporters made an impassioned plea to the board Monday night to save the building, presenting more than 700 petitions.
“This is important to the community. This is the history of this community. Give this gift to the people of Central,” Mia Freneaux pleaded.
Board member Sharon Browning urged the board to give the gym preservationists one last chance.
“When you have a group that is this passionate, you want to try to come up with a compromise,” Browning said.
Several board members expressed doubt that passion alone could save the building and said supporters need to show they can raise enough money to actually carry out their plans.
“It’s easy just to sign a petition,” School Board member Ruby Foil said.
Board member Jim Lloyd noted that the board has been debating for years what to do with the old gym and that voters in November renewed bonds, some of which are paying for the demolition of the buildings at 11526 Sullivan Road, which was the home of Central Middle and Central High before that.
Board President Jim Gardner doubted whether the building is worth preserving. A graduate of the old Central High School, he’s sought out other older graduates and found they don’t care if it’s demolished.
“Everyone called to say, ‘We didn’t like the gym then, and we don’t like it now,’ ” Gardner said.
David Freneaux, husband of Mia Freneaux and an unsuccessful candidate for Central mayor earlier this year, said architects and other construction professionals have looked at the gym and say it would cost about $150,000 to $200,000 to refurbish and modernize but only $20,000 or so to remove it from condemnation.
ARC Abatement is in the midst of demolishing much of the old Central Middle School property. It bid almost $329,000 in April to do the work. If their work is not halted, they will get to the old gym demolition by Sept. 19, Superintendent Michael Faulk said.
The old middle school property was vacated in summer 2012 when Central built a new middle and intermediate school at another location.
In other business, the School Board approved a $38 million general operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Continued growth and local tax revenue as well state funding thanks to growing enrollment is expected to leave the school system with a $12.2 million fund balance at the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year, $1.2 million more than the current surplus.