WHITE HALL —A landmark, 75-year-old school building constructed in 1939 by the federal Works Progress Administration is on its way to a new life as a Redfield community center.
The former Redfield Middle School — closed at the end of the 2012-13 academic year by the White Hall School Board — was cleared by the panel Tuesday night for immediate sale to the Keep Redfield Middle School citizens group. The organization, which listed Todd Dobbins as its president, was the high bidder on the building at $70,112.
White Hall School District officials opened four bids on the property last month after an injunction on the proposed sale was lifted by Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis. Redfield native Paul Byrd, a Little Rock attorney, obtained the two-week injunction on behalf of two groups and a number of individuals.
The remaining bids ranged from $15,689 to $60,111.
“This is a good day for the White Hall School District and the city of Redfield,” said Redfield veterinarian Dr. Conley Byrd, a Jefferson County Quorum Court member who had given his support to Redfield’s efforts to gain ownership of the property. “We had been concerned about possible demolition of the building, and that’s why we filed suit.
“The Redfield community came together and made sacrifices to come up with the money to make its goal a reality,” he continued. “Redfield wanted the property as a community center and the school district wanted to sell the building and get out from under the responsibilities and expense of maintaining it. I think it turned out to be a blessing for everyone.”
WHSD Superintendent Larry Smith said the sale could be completed by Friday. Smith said money from the sale must be placed in a non-interest bearing account and expended on prescribed measures within two years to satisfy applicable state and federal regulations.
“I’m glad this is behind us and (the Redfield group) is the party that bought the old school,” said school board President Dr. Raymond Jones. “Now it’ll be used to serve children in basketball and other youth programs, and people of all ages will be able to enjoy it as a community center. It couldn’t have gone better tonight.”
Byrd said several groups have expressed interest in utilizing the site “right away” for after-school programs, including 4-H Club activities and pee-wee athletics. Varied ideas for other uses of the property have also been offered, he said.
He believes ownership of the site will be rewarding but also challenging.
“Now that we’ll have it as soon as the sale is closed, a lot of possibilities are opening for us,” Byrd said. “But we’ll also have to be focused on raising funds to maintain the building and pay the utility bills and help finance the programs there.”
A major plus in owning the facility and operating it as a community center, Byrd thinks, is that new grants will be available.
“Any assistance we can obtain will help to encourage the community to remember that its steady support will be needed,” he said. “We’re going to have to have fundraisers and people dipping into their pockets, but we’ve already shown that we’re capable of doing whatever might need to be done. We may have surprised ourselves and others with our success, and now we have to stay on course.”
Even though he was pleased with the outcome, Byrd said he thinks Redfield residents would have preferred RMS remaining open.
“I think what’s happened is we’re making lemonade out of a lemon,” he said. “We would like to still have a school there, but the community center presents a new set of opportunities for Redfield.”
Byrd said it’s easy to compare Redfield’s new union with the historic structure to a marriage.
“We’ll celebrate it like a marriage,” he said with a grin. “First, we’ll have a honeymoon, and then we’ll deal with the bills.”