Local News

May 21, 2014

Emery Center officials confident on saving building

— No one affiliated with the Emery Center wants to move out of the old Emery Street School building, director Curtis Rivers said on Wednesday.

Officials with the center toured Dalton High School last week as a possible place to house memorabilia and items stored at the center. They are not interested in moving to the school. The center faces a steep estimate on much-needed repairs to the building and lack the money, but Rivers is confident the center will remain where it is.

“Everyone is on the same page,” Rivers said Wednesday after a public meeting Tuesday night. “We’re not moving to Dalton High. We’re preserving the Emery Center.”

The city of Dalton owns the Emery Street School building, built in 1924. It was the only black school in the community — and taught students from surrounding counties — until desegregation.

The center, a nonprofit multicultural heritage center, is in a 20-year lease with the city. The lease requires the center to make all repairs and perform maintenance.

“We’re willing, on a time frame, to work with them as long as they are showing progress,” City Council member Tate O’Gwin said. “I don’t want to see the Emery Center torn down, but at the same time, we’ll have a hard time financing their improvements on the building.”

An architect quoted $455,000 in repairs. That’s after a quote several months ago of $80,000 by the county building inspector’s office. The center has raised more than $100,000, but no repairs have begun.

Rivers believes the quote is too high and that officials can find contractors who will help them for less.

“They’re going to let us do our own repairs,” Rivers said. “What we hope to do is talk with the building inspector and fire marshal and see what really has to be done. Then we’ll take it one repair at a time.”

Rivers said he and others at the center plan to reorganize, create committees and assign responsibilities for fundraising and beginning repairs.

“Once we reassess the repairs, we’ll itemize them and publish them,” he said. “Then let them know what this particular repair will cost. ... The whole assessment was inflated.”

Rivers said he and others will get quality work for as low a price as possible.

O’Gwin said the center is not being forced to close currently, but city officials will meet with Rivers about setting up a timeline. Repairs will need to begin, and a deadline will be set, he said.

“We are providing flexibility,” O’Gwin said. “There is no political will to put money in. We’re willing to help in any way we can, but we are not willing to put money into that old of a building.”

O’Gwin said he is still concerned that even if the center raises the needed funds now, the need will arise again in a few years because the building is so old and requires much more maintenance.

Rivers said many people want center to remain on Emery Street, and he’s sure that given time, they will step up and help save the center.

“People wanted the city to be a part of the whole thing,” he said. “They don’t want to be put aside. We see the attraction, and everybody felt like the city should be part of it, too.”

Paige Watts, the translation academy teacher at Morris Innovative High School, said she and students at the school are interested in seeing the center remain open. They had begun working on a project to place a Hispanic heritage display in the center before the financial woes began. It was put on hold while the fate of the center was in limbo.

“We’ve really grown to love and appreciate the people at the Emery Center,” Watts said. “Our goal is the same, capture the culture and show it off.”

Students in the translation academy held a small fundraiser on Wednesday where they sold a cup of corn for $1.

“The sad part is that school is out Friday,” Watts said. “In August, we’ll pick it up again.”

Though the black community has been the most vocal about saving the center, Rivers emphasizes the center is not just about black history.

“It’s not a black thing,” he said. “It’s good for everybody. It’s an educational vehicle. If you look in any room, you’ll see white faces, faces of (American) Indians. It’s very diverse, very inclusive.”

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