Local News

May 15, 2014

Costs of repairs at Emery Center skyrocket

— The old Emery Street School building is like an old home place to Henry Parks, and he doesn’t want to see it lost.

“We’re going to save that place,” he said Thursday night during a partial tour of Dalton High School, which was presented as a potential home for the memorabilia and artifacts now stored at the Emery Center.

The Emery Center is a nonprofit multicultural heritage center housed in the former Emery Street School, the school in Dalton that served black students from surrounding counties until segregation ended. The building was constructed in 1924.

Though officials of the center thought the building had been saved, they found out recently an estimate given to them by the city building inspector’s office was several hundred thousand dollars too low. Center officials originally thought they needed to raise approximately $80,000, but a new estimate from an architect quotes $455,000 in repairs.

Curtis Rivers, the center’s director, said more than $100,000 has been raised, and $75,000 of that was from an anonymous donor, who is getting anxious to see repairs started on the building.

The building is owned by the city. The Emery Center signed a 20-year lease, which expires in 2023. The lease states the center is responsible for all repairs.

City officials suggested looking for another home for the center since the needed repairs are so extensive. One potential solution is Dalton High School.

But those attending Thursday’s meeting were not happy with that suggestion.

“This is nice, but it’s not Emery,” Ben Phillips said. “The best place to tell a story is where it happened, and it didn’t happen here.”

City Administrator Ty Ross said housing the items from the center at the high school would expose them to 1,800 students at the school. He said moving the center would ease the financial burden because the center wouldn’t even have to pay for utilities.

“When we saw $455,000 we thought that was a steep hill to climb,” said Tate O’Gwin, a City Council member who attended the meeting. “No one is telling anyone what to do or how to do it. ... Ideal is to find a way to get the building up to code and stay in business.”

Dionna Reynolds, a member of the center’s board of directors, said the center operates currently as a museum. There were approximately 75 students who toured the museum on Thursday, and she’s concerned housing it in Dalton High School would limit the ability to give tours.

“How could we continue to operate as a museum?” she asked. “I think this would be the last, last, last resort.”

Reynolds, and many others, said they want the Emery Center to remain where it is and want to find a solution to this new estimate.

“I wanted us to have the opportunity, to have the option to come here,” Rivers said. “I didn’t want to bypass an opportunity. We’re not moving here. Don’t go out and tell people we are. I want you to see what’s here for you.”

The tour ended after only a small section of the high school had been seen by the group when it had become apparent no one in attendance was interested in housing the center at the high school.

There was also concern city officials have other plans, or a “hidden agenda” for the building, and are trying to force the center to leave.

“There is no agenda for the site,” O’Gwin said. “Our concern is if you get it up to code, in four to five years, you may have some of these same issues. It’s evident you are passionate about this. Are your kids going to have the same passion? We’re looking for the best solution to a bad situation. The condition of the building is a reality we cannot get around.”

Rivers believes the center can afford repairs if officials are given a chance to prioritize them and do them in stages, and if they can receive other estimates.

“I want to know what the timeline is for this to be settled,” he said.

O’Gwin and Ross agreed to meet with Rivers about coming up with a timeline for repairs that need to be made. O’Gwin said part of that will depend on the city’s liability since it is not currently in line with city building codes.

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