City Council talks demolishing East Highland
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA — During a 6-hour work session Monday night, the City Council talked about the future of the former East Highland School building.

Mary Hicks, founder of I Can Achieve Ministries, asked if her group could occupy the East Highland band room starting next month to host activities for young boys. Hicks has been asking for a lease to the dilapidated school for about a year in order to repair it and start a number of community programs.

The council said the band room ceiling has collapsed. Council President Rocky Lucas said the city’s insurance company recently informed them the school, which was closed around 2004 and has been heavily vandalized, must either be secured or demolished for safety reasons. Securing it would require an 8- to 10-foot chain-link fence around the structure, he said.

Hicks maintains her group can acquire the estimated $4 million-$6 million it would take to renovate the historically black school through grants if the city would first give them a lease. Lucas said they would still have to secure the building before leasing it.

“At the end of the day, the money that it’s going to cost to put the fence up is a gamble, and we don’t have that type of money to put out on a whim,” Lucas said. “I don’t think it’s responsible for us to pay to secure the building and just wait and hope that maybe you could get your grants.”

Mayor Doug Murphree suggested that, if East Highland is demolished, Hicks take any grant money received and put it toward a new building at the site. Hicks said that is not her purpose.

“My main purpose is to keep the legacy of the school since 1944 in that community,” she said. “Keep the legacy and do something in honor of the Drew Court.”

Citizen Bobby Whetstone addressed the council and said people in the communities around the school want it torn down.

“It’s an eyesore,” Whetstone said. “You will have no problems in the black community tearing the building down. The problem that the people want to know is what’s going to happen to (the former Mountainview School building) and Verlie Collins (Senior Center). But East Highland, you can stick a fork in it.”

With a residential demolition project in progress, Lucas said he feels the city is not holding itself to the same standards as it holds the citizens for building safety by leaving East Highland standing.

“I feel like it’s contradictory, and it’s because we’re trying to give I Can Achieve Ministries every opportunity, but it’s not feasible,” he said.

Hicks said she came out of retirement to save East Highland, and God has not given up on it. She added that those who want it torn down are only thinking of themselves and not the legacy of the school.

Councilmen discussed taking a vote at today’s meeting on whether to continue talks with ICA, but ultimately decided to table the conversation for the next work session on Feb. 18.

Hicks also asked for a proclamation from the city promoting March 4 as a fundraiser for the start of ICA’s White Foundation of Sylacauga, meant to honor white people who have helped the black community. Councilman Joe Hogan suggested that Hicks consider changing the name of the foundation to get more public support.

In other business, the council:

• Discussed litter control options. Murphree announced a public meeting on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at City Hall to talk about community cleanup days and other projects to beautify the city.

• Heard from Economic Development Authority Director Calvin Miller, who asked that a $6.8 million tax abatement to Fleetwood Metals in 2004 be amended to reflect the actual amount spent, which totaled $8.3 million. Fleetwood is currently operating at full capacity with 240 employees, Miller said.

• Interviewed and discussed the following applicants for board appointments: Phyllis Large for Parks and Recreation Board, Jaclyn Cosper for Board of Adjustment and Appeals, and Leslie Thompson, Anne Pruett, Jeff Bates, Herschel Jones and Brandon Pingry for the Commercial Development Authority. Board appointments will be made today.

• Discussed a funding request from the Miss Teen Alabama pageant.

• Discussed moving the sign at Fairmont, which will be in the state right of way in the event the state constructs a four-lane down Alabama 21. Murphree said the state has given the city $2,800 to relocate it.

• Heard Murphree announce Talladega County EMA has donated three new weather sirens to Sylacauga to replace older models. The city is responsible for installing the sirens.

The council meets today at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013