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09/15/09
Visit Fairmount High School While You Can
Filed under: General, Politics
Posted by: Andy @ 4:02 pm

Fairmount High SchoolIf you are visiting Fairmount during Museum Days on the last weekend of this month, give the old Fairmount High School a long look. It may well be your last. It will likely not be there next year.

It was bad enough that the ‘historical preservation’ company (which I will not name) that bought the building in 2003 did a poor job at fund-raising and dealing with interested parties. It tried to trick Warner Bros, who made the James Dean films, into contributing; the studio instead held a botched-up bash called James Dean Fest in 2005. The company took years to try to raise money. However, it never had enough; it had misestimated the cost from the start (the building is loaded with asbestos); and that cost kept going up.

In the end, after the mini-depression came last year, the company in April transferred the building back to the original owner, a local youth sports league. But not before it recouped some of its losses by selling off the northeast quarter block to some guy, who turned the old vocational education building into a garage and plans to reseed the parking lot. Now the league has no choice but to tear down the building: It is in far worse shape than in 2003, and the league needs the parking space.

But what makes it all the more galling is that everyone in town had been deceived. The company, it turns out, passes off its mission as historical preservation when, in fact, its chief mission is fund-raising. It is, to put it bluntly, a front! I learned this last night at the library board meeting.

I suppose we were ripe to be plucked, dazzled by the company’s promises of a performing arts center and museum in James Dean’s name. What does a town of under three thousand people need a performing arts center for? What does it need a museum for, when it already has one? There were plans to move the local library to the restored building; but those plans left no room for expansion; so, in the end, the library board gave up waiting, got a state grant, and renovated a couple of neighboring buildings into a new library.

It is not so much that people lost money on this. The company is said to have refunded all donations to the high school restoration. What we have lost is time — years during which everyone had their hopes raised while the building was rotting away. Now it is too late to save the building — it will be torn down — even if Warner Bros (who must have known that the company was a front) decides to pony up restoration funds now.

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