ICA group asks for East Highland School band room
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – I Can Achieve Ministries is requesting ownership of the East Highland School band room as a starting point for its proposed community center to be operated out of the former school building.

This latest request is the group’s response to a building lease draft the City Council presented in March. Prepared by City Attorney Edwin Livingston, the draft proposed a 366-day lease to EHS strictly for grant-obtaining purposes with the contingency that if funding is not collected to renovate the building in that time, ICA is responsible for demolishing it. An architect previously estimated costs of renovation at about $6 million.

“(Demolishing the building is) a tremendous expense, and I don’t know that I can use grant money to demolish it when the money was meant to renovate it,” said ICA Chairman Erroll Brantley at a council work session last week. “We were hoping we could come up with something better than this to give us a little more provisional ownership.”

Brantley said if the city would give them the band room, which has a collapsing ceiling but is otherwise useful, he said, it would help with fundraising, securing grants and showing progress to the community.

For about two years, ICA has been requesting ownership or some type of lease to EHS, located off Robert E. Lawson Street, in hopes of starting about 25 youth and senior adult programs there. The previous City Council negotiated with ICA at-length with its final request being five items (proper nonprofit identification from the IRS and state, proof of a funding source, an architect rendering of their building plan, a timeline from the time it begins renovations until it opens for business and long-term funding plans) that were not provided in the time given.

Since swearing in last November, new council members have continued these talks – first requesting a formal business plan that was not supplied, then agreeing the city would move toward demolishing the building while ICA continued toward obtaining grants, and most recently, presenting the draft of a lease.

Closed and deeded to the city in 2004, EHS has been heavily vandalized in the past nine years with broken windows and glass throughout, stolen doors and door frames and other damage. The city’s insurance company recently requested something be done to keep people out of the building.

Council President Rocky Lucas said if the city gave ICA the band room, he would insist the group first fence the entire property to secure it from further destruction. Brantley questioned why ICA would have to spend its money to put up a fence on land that belongs to the city.

“You’re right; it’s our building,” Lucas said. “And we’re bending over backwards to try to help I Can Achieve out. I feel like we’re at our breaking limit. We would probably not do this for any other group, and I just feel like we’re giving all we can give, and it’s not being reciprocated in my opinion.”

ICA Board member Dorothy McKinney said Brantley’s statements were misconstrued.

“This ‘you’re giving, but we’re not giving anything’ is entirely wrong,” she said. “We are here because we want the school for our children. We have a right to that school for our children, so stop spinning wheels. These meetings are going on and on, and nothing is coming out of it. It’s like we’re being played with like we’re children. No, we’re not. We’re adults, and we have minds; we think. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of this. Give us that band room and if in six months we don’t have anything done, take it back.”

Brantley asked if the city could both give them the building and allow them to raise money to put the fence up.

“I’ve never said you couldn’t do both,” Lucas said. “I would just like to see fence first, then the building, because I think we all are aware it’s going to take months to get the band room where it needs to be. Quite frankly, I would think if I had an interest in a building that was being vandalized, and I had a genuine interest in repairing that building, I would want the vandalism to stop as quickly as possible, because the more its vandalized, the more its going to cost to repair.”

Councilman Joe Hogan said he would consider selling ICA the band room for a nominal fee and writing up an ownership deal contingent on the group’s progress toward bringing its business plan, which has yet to be completed, to fruition. Lucas suggested ICA make a prioritized list of its intended repairs to the band room followed by the rest of the building.

The council ultimately decided to discuss the predicament with the city attorney and get back with ICA at a later meeting.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013