FLAT ROCK — A 111-year-old building is set to be torn down in Flat Rock.
The Flat Rock Community School Board of Education unanimously voted to demolish the old Reading School building, located off Gibraltar Road, on the school system’s property. Demolition work is expected to start soon.
The two-story brick building was named after Gertrude Reading (pronounced Redding), the first principal at the school. It was last used as a school in 1970. The building had been owned by the city of Flat Rock until last year, when it was purchased by Flat Rock cchools. Both municipalities used the facility for storage and offices.
“The Flat Rock Board of Education purchased the Reading building last year from the city of Flat Rock because it sits on the Flat Rock Community Building campus. The building was sold over 20 years ago by the district to the city,” Andrew Brodie, Flat Rock superintendent, said. “During Focus Panels last year regarding the direction of the district from a facilities standpoint, we took community input and discussed at length the district's plans regarding the Reading building. The vote on Nov. 21 came down to the fact that our mission is to educate the students of the community of Flat Rock. Unfortunately, this building that sits on our Community Building campus does not meet the current needs of the school district. The fact that the building sits on Flat Rock Community Schools property and was allowed to fall into disrepair placed the board of education in the position of making a difficult decision. The condition of the building and the cost associated with renovations versus demolition were considered in the decision.”
Nova Environmental will handle asbestos abatement. Homrich of Carleton will complete demolition. The district will try to retain parts of the façade.
“As part of the demolition work, we will be removing some of the more decorative aspects of the building and incorporating them into future work at other locations in the school district as a part of the upcoming construction at our elementary schools (Bobcean and Barnes),” Brodie said.
The soon-to-be-vacant land will become part of the school district’s Community Building property.
“The space where the Reading building currently sits will be used to support the functions of the Community Building property,” Brodie said. “This Community Building property is used for many different student-, staff- and community-related functions. Pre-school is currently run at this site. We host the Downriver Genealogical Society. Our Central Office (District Administration) is on this campus, as well as Transportation, Maintenance, Buildings and Grounds and our current varsity soccer field. We also utilized the gymnasium for both school-sponsored athletics and community-based athletic programs. The space where the Reading building currently sits will be used to support the functions of the Community Building property.”
Some objected to the board’s decision to demolish the structure.
“There are always objections when a decision of this manner is made. These are difficult decisions that the board of education does not take lightly,” Brodie said. “This board of education takes great pride in making decisions that positively impact educational opportunities for children who attend Flat Rock Community Schools. Unfortunately, those decisions at times are difficult, but must still be made to continue to move the school district forward.”
Among the dissenters is Bruce Chapin, president of the Flat Rock Historical Society. Chapin has been president of the society for two years and had been a student at Reading.
“I tried to fight it. I and others made proposals to the board to find a suitable person to develop the property,” Chapin said. “They listened, but basically ignored us. We want to find a way to stop it. I am dismayed. I can’t believe an educator would tear down a historical building.”
Some in the society and community tried unsuccessfully in 2015 to have the building declared a historical site. Chapin said a petition also was circulated in the community to save the building; 400 people signed the document within a month.
Chapin said when the building was owned by the city of Flat Rock, there was interest by some in renovating the building.
“The district has never been formally approached regarding renovations, with both a plan for specific renovations and the monetary backing to execute said plan,” Brodie said.
Chapin said he’d like to see the Reading building used for offices, apartments, storage and a children’s museum.
“That building could be turned into some pretty nice offices and a nice parking lot. (The school board) just wants to tear it down. They said, ‘It’s not our job to preserve history. It’s our job to educate students.’ There’s nothing left to do,” Chapin said.
Brodie said that proposal is not feasible.
“The building sits on school district property and therefore is not available for private ownership. Additionally, the costs associated with renovating, updating, maintaining and supporting this building would far exceed the school district's ability to apply an educational nexus that makes sense from a fiscally responsible standpoint,” Brodie said.
Reading School was built in 1911 to replace a 1906 school building that burned down.
The 1906 building contained much wood and burned quickly, Chapin said. So the new school, Reading, was constructed mostly of concrete and was built on the ruins of the first structure.
“It has concrete walls, concrete floor. The only wood is the roof,” Chapin said.
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Reading School in Flat Rock slated for demolition