Group to discuss old Benton High School's fate

Friday, November 18, 2005

Some want to restore the building and get it placed on the National Register.

The old Benton High School building in Benton, Mo.

BENTON, Mo. -- The old Benton High School is in bad shape -- floors are buckling, plumbing doesn't function and plaster is falling off the walls.

But the members of the Benton Community Betterment Corp. are hoping to reverse the disrepair that has befallen the building. They want to restore the facility, and hopefully earn it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Before those things can happen, members of the BCBC want to gauge the amount of community support for the renovation. To that end, the group will hold a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Scott County Courthouse -- a building placed on the register in 2003.

The exact date of the schoolhouse's construction hasn't yet been determined, but the building was built by the Works Progress Administration under President Franklin Roosevelt sometime in the 1930s or early 1940s.

High school classes were held there until Kelly High School was constructed in 1957. Afterward, the building was used as an elementary school until 1970, then as a Head Start building for a few years. Now the building is used on rare occasions to house community activities, but that can't go on much longer in the facility's current state, said Christy LeGrand, a member of the BCBC.

The Benton Chamber of Commerce owns the building, but is willing to make a $1 swap with the BCBC to take over ownership and pursue grants to renovate the structure. The Scott County Commission has pledged the services of county developer Joel Evans, who worked on the courthouse project, to assist in grant writing.

Estimates on repair costs were last taken in the late 1990s and came in at around $250,000, said Jeff Scherer, another Benton resident working on the project. Costs have likely risen from more deterioration, though, and asbestos in the building would have to be neutralized, another costly procedure.

Those working to renovate the building hope it can attract more tourism to town and serve as a community activity center.

For the many students who went to class there, the old high school holds a lot of memories, said Lois Spalding, a 1950 graduate and organizer of class reunions for Benton residents who graduated before the Kelly School District was formed.

Spalding said many alumni have expressed interest in working on the restoration however they can, be it monetary contributions or volunteering time.

Monday's meeting is only a first step in what would be a long restoration process -- a way to see what residents think should be done with the old building.

"We haven't yet talked to a lot of people," LeGrand said. "If nobody shows up and people say they don't really care, it may not be worth pursuing."

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