City to close Old School because of imminent danger

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2003

A near-miss electrical fire at the Old School on Main Street was all it took for Demopolis city leaders to finally heed the three-year-old advice of an insurance company.

In 2000, an insurance company inspected the Old School building currently used for community activities and play performances, and that company recommended city officials close the building. However, the city did not close the building and worked around the potential catastrophes hidden in the rotting structure.

All that changed this week when Mayor Austin Caldwell told council members that wires were found to have burned inside the Old School.

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With that, the Demopolis City Council decided to close the building on June 1. Activities will continue through May, but the doors will be locked to the Old School until electrical problems can be fixed.

Demopolis Police Chief Charles Avery said the city has been "lucky" there haven’t been serious problems from the Old School’s condition, and City Clerk Vickie Taylor confirmed that no claims have been filed against the city resulting from injuries at the building.

According to city records, an insurance company told city leaders that the electrical problems at the Old School needed to be fixed three years ago, and they also encouraged that children not be involved in activities there.

That advice finally has been heeded, and while the building will be closed on June 1, Caldwell said he expects the Old School to re-open in a month. Council members agreed to hire a professional electrician to look at the building and determine what work needs to be complete to make the building safe again.

At Thursday’s council meeting, it was unclear how much it will cost the city to fix the electrical problem in the Old School, but council members seemed intent on getting the problem fixed.

In order to spend unbudgeted money from the city’s budget, council must first declare an emergency. That was not done at Thursday’s meeting because the city doesn’t yet know how much it will have to spend to fix the problem. However, it was clear council members want to make the building safe again.

Activities are scheduled to continue at the Old School through the month of May, and council members suggested to Fire Chief George Davenport that the fire department have someone present during all functions at the building.

Though electrical problems are the most pressing at the Old School, Caldwell also reported that work to repair the roof on the building will cost much more than originally anticipated.

In other council news:

Chief Davenport announced to council members that the Fire Department has finally received its new truck. The truck cost the city more than $326,000, but will help push insurance rates down.

According to Davenport, there are a few more tests that have to be run on the engine before the city accepts the new truck.

Jackie Smith, the former city clerk in Selma, introduced herself to members of the city council on Thursday night as the new director of the Black Belt Chapter of the American Red Cross. Smith, along with Brettaina Evans, will be in charge of the Marengo County office of the Red Cross.

Smith said her office is working to establish an advisory council for the area that serves Dallas, Wilcox, Perry, Choctaw and Marengo counties, and she asked that council members come up with two local people to serve on the council.

Councilman Willard Williams offered a quick warning to residents on Old Springhill Road &045;&045; an area in his district.

Williams said there are surveyors working on that road and residents should not be concerned if they see someone in their yards.