Our View: Time has come to tear down East Highland
The Sylacauga City Council is in a tough spot trying to deal with the long-closed and heavily vandalized East Highland School Building.

The historically black school suffers from a collapsed ceiling in the band room, and the effects of vandalism inflicted on the building since it closed in 2004 are clearly evident.

It is our view that the school should be torn down, the property cleared off and then be made available for any worthwhile civic cause that will improve the quality of life in Sylacauga. We recognize that Mary Hicks, founder of “I Can Achieve” ministries wants to lease the building. She says that with lease in hand she can secure grants needed to repair the school building so she can run her charitable organization from there and continue the school’s legacy.

Such action will still hold many legal risks for the City Council, however. The Council owns the building and therefore could be liable for any kind of injury suffered by someone on the school property. And that would be true whether the building is leased or not.

The city’s insurance company has told the council the school must either be secured or demolished, for just those kinds of legal risks. Securing the property would mean an 8-to 10-foot chain link fence around the entire school. That will not be an inexpensive proposition.

Hicks says that if she only had a lease, her group could then obtain grants that would provide the estimated $4 million to $6 million needed to bring the building back to life. That’s a lot of money and no one really knows if the $6 million would be enough to do the job right. And Hicks has never said where those grants would come from or how long it will take to get them.

Even if the city did lease the building to Hicks, the fence will still have to be built, said Rocky Lucas, president of the Council. He spoke plainly, but honestly to Hicks when he said, “At the end of the day, the money it’s going to cost to put the fence up is a gamble and we don’t have that kind of money to put out on a whim. I don’t think it is responsible for us to pay to secure the building and just wait and hope that maybe you could get your grants.”

We are sure some on the council have been concerned with the community reaction to tearing down the building, which housed the school they attended as children.

But, while we cannot presume he speaks for everyone, Bobby Whetstone was just as plain and honest as Lucas when he described what he thinks people want done.

“It’s an eyesore. You will have no problem 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,” Whetstone told the council members in their work session on Tuesday.

We must admire the tenacity of Hicks, who has taken on this project as a sign from God, she says. At the work session she asked the council to set March 4 as a fundraiser date for ICA’s White Foundation of Sylacauga, meant she said, to honor white people who have helped the black community.

We agree with Councilman Joe Hogan who suggested she change the name to get more public support. Perhaps she can honor a “Distinguished Citizen.” It is way past time to eliminate race as a requirement for civic honors or anything else. Let’s honor those who earn it, regardless of color.

But, back to the building. Whetstone is right. Let’s stick a fork in it, for it is done. It has served its purpose and now it is time to go. That is the best solution for the sagging school building, and for the citizens of Sylacauga, whose tax money must be used to pay for whatever is done to the building.

Their interest should come first.

© 2013