[Masthead] Overcast ~ 72°F  
High: 68°F ~ Low: 46°F
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's time to build a better county

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bricks and mortar. And, a financial burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

That's possibly the final ending of the 1939-vintage ex-Central High/Harris Middle building on Elm Street, along with its dilapidated 1954-vintage gym, and the 1950-vintage ex-Bedford County General Hospital on Union Street.

The decision to cut off utilities -- and stop paying the high bills (over $500,000 a year at the old hospital alone) -- means that Southern heat and humidity and winter's cold will slowly disintegrate those buildings. I've been wondering how long the county was going to keep the lights burning.

I'd suspect the land under those buildings is worth more than the structures themselves, as was stated at a county committee meeting last week.

We'll probably hear from the preservationists who want something contained in those buildings. I could see the old SCHS maybe being sold to Garland King for a more visible site for his museum, or maybe as the ultimate collectible. Otherwise, those old buildings should be torn down.

Some will probably yell that the old SCHS, especially, contains memories.

I spent three of my four high school years in that old building with the yellow brick inside walls, old lockers, dim lights, steep staircases and narrow halls. The old SCHS was in its 35th to 38th years when I attended. Today's SCHS is in its 32nd year and looking far better for its age -- with more remodeling than the old one.

And I have lots of memories of people and happenings at the old one -- but those memories live within my mind. When I pass by that old school, I see simply a lonely, empty building, not a living, breathing destination.

I visited another old, but far from empty, building Thursday -- Bedford County Courthouse, where I joined the line of early voters.

We stretched from the Election Commission offices in the basement nearly to the outer doors. Inside the main office, Summer Leverette and her crew were working in cramped quarters with smiles and efficiency.

From there, we voters walked across the hall to another small room crammed with voting machines and more friendly workers.

I didn't ask any questions about how hard it was to work under those conditions. They were too busy to be interrogated.

But county offices -- and, especially, an important one such as the Election Commission -- should be housed in modern facilities with modern equipment.

A good way to start down that road would be by getting rid of unused buildings in whatever manner necessary and using any money gained toward finding better homes for county offices.

Unlike the recently-departed Depot Street store building, in a lot of cases you can't just take a crane and wrecking ball, knock down walls and carry the remains away in a dump truck.

I don't envy county officials' decision process for disposing of old structures. Destruction can be costly; a $1 million-plus price for disposal of asbestos alone at the old SCHS was quoted.

There's something to be said for proceeding cautiously. But the old hospital is nearing its fifth empty month; the old SCHS is in its third empty school year.

Meanwhile, county offices I visit are either cluttered and in desperate need of more modern space, or scattered away from the main courthouse.

It couldn't cost that much to build simply a basic, functional building to house all county offices in one central location, then turn the courthouse back into, literally, a courthouse -- for legal cases and the like.

I'd like to hear, at least, some constructive ideas for building a better Bedford County -- starting with its office buildings.

-- David Melson is a Times-Gazette copy editor/staff writer. He can be contacted at dmelson@t-g.com.

David Melson
On the Loose