Rally aims to prevent demolition of former Silver Lake Elementary School

("old school" by alamosbasement, CC BY 2.0 )

Owners of the former Silver Lake Elementary School are planning a “Save the School” rally Tuesday to keep the town from ordering it be demolished.

But after 10 years of broken promises by the owners, the Silver Lake Town Council is concerned about public safety if the building remains.

The rally is 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the school building on East Sycamore Street. Punch and cookies will be served while supplies last. Mike Baur, one of the members of the Silver Lake Partners LLC, said an architect and lawyer were asked to attend to answer questions.

Silver Lake Town Council is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the town hall to vote on an “order to demolish” the former school. Silver Lake Partners LLC is hoping that volunteers will attend Wednesday’s morning to speak on the matter.

In September 2003, Warsaw Community Schools voted to close Atwood, Claypool and Silver Lake schools. Concerned Citizens for Quality Education filed a lawsuit a the time asking for an injunction against closing the three elementaries. In May 2004, Special Judge Douglas B. Morton granted WCS’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the closings were the result of a decision by a political body – an elected school board – and that the court had no authority to interfere. He also said the board’s actions were supported by appropriate studies and proper and responsible motives.

While WCS eventually reopened Claypool, the buildings at Atwood and Silver Lake remained closed. Silver Lake Partners LLC eventually became the owners of the Silver Lake property.

In 2008, a representative of the school’s owner said options for the building were still being discussed. One idea was to have a charter school at the location. She also said the gym may be available for rent and for community events.

In August 2012, the Silver Lake Town Council decided it needed to look deeper into the condition of the school building. The Partners were invited to the meeting, but did not attend. The council discussed the broken windows, the unkempt lawn and said it was a health and safety concern. Residents also brought up the fact that the school is home to a lot of bats.

Baur this week was going through the town and seeing what people thought of keeping the school open. He also was putting out flyers about the rally and meeting. He said everyone he talked to was in support of keeping the building from being demolished.

In the flyer, he says there are four reasons to keep the building from being demolished: the art deco style of the building makes it an architectural gem; it is one of the last “Hoosiers”-style gyms in the state; if it’s demolished, Silver Lake property taxes will go up to pay for the demolition and legal costs; and it has historical significance to the town.

Baur said the Partnership that owns the building does not have the estimated $200,000 to $300,000 needed to demolish the building, so the building would be demolished and the town’s citizens would end up paying for the demolition.

In a telephone call today, Town Council President Chad Miner said Baur’s company has had the building for almost 10 years at this point. “Originally, when he got ownership of it, it was on a promise a charter school would be run through it. That never happened. The town has tried to work with Mr. Baur over the years, but the building has sat vacant and abandoned and continues to become increasingly dilapidated.”

He said the town council has come to a point where it’s concerned with the safety and condition of the building.

Council members met with Baur last fall and the property was inspected. Miner said there were numerous safety issues with the property.

“Having worked with Baur for a number of years, we have set it for a hearing,” Miner said. The decision will be if we’re at a point now where we need to tear the building down.

As for Baur’s demolition estimate, Miner said he didn’t know where that came from, but 10 years ago when it was set to be demolished the first time the estimate was less than $100,000 and said he guessed it would still be less than that now.

“I don’t know the cost now, but his number seems high to me,” he said.

If town council orders demolition, Miner said the order would be directed to the present owners (Silver Lake Partners LLC) to tear it down. If they don’t, the town could tear it down and then add the cost to the tax bill or pursue the company to repay the costs.

“There would be avenues the town could pursue to recoup that,” Miner said. “If a town does demolish it itself, a lot of times the cost ultimately can’t be recouped, but there are procedures in place to try and recoup the costs.”

If the building had been demolished 10 years ago as originally planned, Miner said the cost would have been less than now. But if the town waits another five to 10 years, and nothing still becomes of the building, then the cost to demolish is going to be even higher.

“He’s been promising all these things since then, but it’s become more and more dilapidated,” Miner said. “It’s just one of those things that if we ignore it, the problem isn’t going to go away.”

He said town council would love to see something go in there, but after “10 years of broken promises” if someone wanted the building to put it to good use, “they would have done it already.”