County acquires declining Florence school building

Florence Memorial High School, built in 1940, was closed in 1990 because of the consolidation with the Marion school district. After 12 years of delinquent taxes, the school was part of a sheriff?s sale March 1, but no one was interested in a $3,000 minimum bid. The building is now owned by Marion County.What once stood as a proud symbol of secondary education in Florence has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, and soon, even that could disappear.

Marion County Commissioner Dan Holub said the county took possession of the building March 1 after no one put in a minimum bid of $3,000 to buy it.

As a result, Florence Memorial High School was deeded back to the county after 12 years of delinquent taxes went unpaid.

?We discussed the option of trying to sell it again with sealed bids and no minimum amount,? Holub said, ?but we would have to wait six months before doing this.?

Should the commissioners go with that option, one stipulation would be the buyer remove and clean up the building and area in a specified time frame, he said.

If there was money available in the budget to raze the building now, the county could do so without a waiting period, Holub added.

School?s history

Trayce Warner, Florence City Council member, said the high school was in operation from 1940 to 1990.

?Then the surrounding buildings were used as a middle school until (maybe) 1996,? Warner said.

When Florence first consolidated with the Marion School District, Warner said she thinks elementary and middle school students from Florence stayed in town, but high school students went to Marion.

When all Florence students were moved to Marion, the city bought the two smaller buildings from the USD 408 school board for a dollar, she said.

The smaller square building in the same block as the high school was used for home economics classes and the other structure was a gymnasium built in 1970.

The old gymnasium, she said, continues to be used for local events and activities.

The Marion County Special Education Cooperative took over the home economics building and gymnasium for two years not long after consolidation, Warner said.

?We received rent, but when the MCSEC moved to Marion, (the city inherited) those buildings to maintain, and no money to maintain them with,? she said.

A smaller metal building was also part of the complex, but it was sold to Rick Turner, a Florence resident, who uses it for storage, Warner added.SheriffSaleBackSideofSchool6075


Action was taken by the city council to find a new owner for the high school building, but time after time hopes were dashed as each new owner failed to follow through, Warner said.

The first owner had a plan to refurbish it similar to what was done at Bown-Corby in Marion, but Warner said the woman either ran out of money or supporters.

?For whatever reason, she sold it,? Warner said.

The second owner also planned to do something with the building, but he allegedly went to prison, she added. Once incarcerated, it was her understanding that he decided to sell to a third owner.

?This third guy said he bought it and paid cash,? she said. ?He planned to salvage the limestone, tear it down (and haul it away).?

Word got back to the second owner who said he didn?t receive any money, and because the third man couldn?t prove it, the work was halted.

?It stopped in the middle of the project and ended up by persons unknown finishing (part of) it,? she said. ?As for the deed, it was never trans?ferred from the second owner to the third.?

The last prevention effort for the old high school was in about 2000 by a local person who boarded up the first floor windows with plywood,Warner said.

?I?m not sure if the Cham?ber of Commerce or the city of Florence purchased the plywood, but this man boarded up the first floor windows,? she said.

Who?s to blame?

As the years went by, the massive high school building continued to deteriorate, despite efforts by the city to address the situation.

?Half or better of people in town think it?s the city?s fault the building fell apart,? Warner said. ?But what can the city do when it?s privately owned??

The scenario would have been different if the building was still owned by the city, she added.

?The problem is that with a private owner there are so many different channels to go through and it can be expensive.?

Beyond the vandalism and hazardous conditions caused by rodents and pigeon excrement, the structural integrity of the building is failing.

?The lead (shale) tile is very, very heavy, and without any kind of maintenance the roof got weaker and weaker and caved in,? Warner said. ?That?s only been in the last year.?


Tonya Richards, director of the county?s planning and zoning department, told Warner recently the building needs to be condemned because of the pigeon excrement and other factors.

Richards said she hasn?t toured the building, but she has seen pictures taken inside it.

?There are still chalkboards on the wall,? she said.

?I personally think this building is a health risk and a danger to people,? Holub said, adding that he believes commissioners Randy Dallke and Lori Lalouette agree.

Holub said he asked the county road and bridge department how much orange plastic fencing it would take to cordon off the school to keep out children and others. No cost estimate for razing the high school building was available.

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