David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Monday, January 31, 2005
It's Time to Save the Harrington School
The City Council is well on its way to allocating several million dollars to arts and recreation facilities. The money will come from a bond to be funded by what we have been calling RDA funds, which are tax revenues. According to state law, the City gets to keep collecting these revenues for a number of years after the RDAs they were paying for are paid off. (The alternative would be to return the funds to the taxpayers as tax cuts, which I think we all know is an unnatural act for a modern government.)
The precise amount of the available funds depends on the available bond rate, but there's more to that story. I was on a task force which met and studied and discussed, and finally presented to the Mayor and City Council a set of proposed priorities for the funds. Every time we asked how much money we had to work with, we got a different answer, ranging from three or four to twelve million dollars. At this point our recommendations don't matter much, because the fiscal and political ground has shifted considerably and because, like the product of virtually every volunteer City committee, they apparently were ignored after being reported to the Council.
The favored distribution of funds now apparently involves some needed work on the large amphitheater at the Developmental Center, some marina upgrades, a skate park, about $2.5 million of renovations to the old City Hall (which will then be devoted partly to the Arts Council), and a couple of million more for the Recreation Center. These are not bad choices; in fact about half of the list duplicates what the task force suggested. But now Downtown American Fork, Inc., and the Arts Council are now proposing that a million or two be devoted to acquiring and rehabilitating the historic Harrington School. That's not enough money to finish the project, but it is an historic building, and that much commitment by the City would almost certainly be sufficient to attract at least that much more from public and private grants.
There are compelling reasons to act now on the Harrington School:
The project won't get any cheaper as time passes; it will get more expensive.
The RDA funds are available now and the project could be done without a tax increase; if these funds are not used in part for the Harrington, where will the money for the Harrington come from? The present owner doesn't have it and hasn't raised it.
Even if the historic building could legally be demolished, the political damage to current City officials would be considerable. So one way or another it must remain - either as a continuing eyesore and hazard or as a rehabilitated facility which draws people and activity to downtown and celebrates our history.
Sooner or later, though, the unattended building will collapse or burn. Once again, the political damage will be significant to those City officials who might have acted to save it when they had the power to do so. It could be worse. If anyone is killed or maimed when it collapses or burns, the price of doing nothing will prove far higher than the price of acting - and that's before the multi-million dollar lawsuit against the City that will inevitably follow. (I know that the School is privately owned now, but the City will have had opportunities to act, either to acquire and rehabilitate it, or to force it to be maintained in a safe condition, and the fact of its collapse will be evidence that the City failed to act with due diligence.)
The time to rescue the Harrington School is now. If the RDA funds are not the means - if, as Mayor Barratt insists, this project should be handled by a task force similar to the one which handled the parks, and should be voted on by the people as a bond issue - then we watch expectantly for the Mayor to initiate that process in the immediate future and to support it vigorously for as long as the project takes.
One final thought: Whatever else may become of the Harrington, whether it is used as office space or retail space or residential or artistic space, or some combination of these, I earnestly hope that a portion of the building will be reserved for a working school museum, to model for modern students the experience school children would have had at Harrington School in its first few years of existence.
Copyright 2005 by David Rodeback.