FOR more than four decades Columbus has been in a state of conflict concerning its buildings, a division separating those who would preserve the past and those who would build for the future. In many instances the community has been able to adjust the two viewpoints and arrive at results that meet both wishes.
Examples of this old-new thought process can be found throughout the community. Columbus Fire Station 1, the Columbus Area Visitors Center and the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Administration Building are among the most notable instances of melding new additions onto historic structures in a seamless manner. However, what many consider vital parts of Columbus history have been reduced to rubble.
There should be no conflict of opinion about the fate of one “historic” structure that was recently spotlighted in The Republic. The old State Street School, which has been serving as a Bartholomew County government annex building since 1973, needs to be demolished.
As the text and photos in a front page story Saturday vividly depicted, the building is not only in deplorable condition but has reached the level at which officials are concerned about the safety of workers and clients.
Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz succinctly ran down a partial list of troubles with the aging structure:
“The roof leaks; water penetrates through every wall; the tuck pointing is falling out; the basement plumbing has collapsed; it’s not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, and some toilets and urinals don’t work,” he said. “We could spend close to a million dollars trying to Band-Aid that thing. However, we don’t want to be spending good money for bad things.”
Then there are the safety concerns. Carla Wolff, the health department’s assistant director, said there have been a number of times when her clients have fallen down the stairs, which have become rounded after several decades of foot traffic.
“We had a woman carrying a newborn infant who fell down about four of the stairs,” Wolff told the County Council. “The elderly are frightened of the (handicap) lift. There have been multiple times when we’ve considered calling an ambulance because somebody climbing the steps was having chest pains and breathing problems. So we have to go down the steps to provide the elderly with services. That becomes a legality issue because we can’t provide them with privacy.”
But one of the most frightening scenarios facing the health department is that there is only one exit from the second-story offices.
While there obviously are some who might have a sentimental attachment to the 84-year-old building that for 45 years was an East Columbus elementary school, reality trumps those sentiments for a number of reasons.
There is little historical value in the building’s architecture or its multiple uses. As Kleinhenz noted, a million dollars for repair would only end up costing taxpayers much more.
A new, properly planned structure would afford the county a better opportunity to organize its infrastructure, especially the county’s health department that is split into a number of offices around the city.
This process should also serve as an object lesson for all government entities — the need to always have available through capital funds the necessary money for an orderly maintenance schedule so that conditions do not reach the abysmal and dangerous state into which the State Street annex has fallen.
For now, there is a need to move urgently, demolish the old building and establish new housing for government offices. To not do so is to flirt with disaster.
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