Long before it was Waterville Primary School, the old building on the Maumee River so familiar to village residents was Waterville's high school.
Now, to the dismay of the building's tenants, the town council is planning to demolish the structure once it takes possession of it from the Anthony Wayne Local Schools and turn the property into a park along the Maumee.
Over the past decade, the structure, now known as the Dudrow Building, has become an inexpensive rental property for local community groups.
Teri Utz Bersee, who teaches pottery classes there, and her friend Jennifer Giovannucci, who uses one of the rooms as a painting studio, have joined forces to form the One River Road School Preservation Committee to protest its demolition.
They plan to lobby village council to save the building and turn it into a community center that could provide recreational space for citizens and attract businesses to Waterville.
Besides three floors of classrooms, the Dudrow has a cafeteria, kitchen, gymnasium, and stage, the latter equipped with a red velvet curtain still in prime condition from the school's theater days.
The village has applied for a $350,000 grant from the National Scenic Byways Program to cover the cost of the demolition. It has an agreement in principle to buy the property from the school district for $90,000.
Mrs. Bersee and Mrs. Giovannucci see benefits to local merchants from the proposed community center, but their argument is far from persuasive to supporters of the demolition/park plan, who far outnumber them.
Village Councilman Tim Guzman said the school district spends more on maintaining the building than it collects in rents, and Waterville does not want to continue the trend.
"Our plan from the beginning was to get a grant, take the building down, and turn it into parkland," he said. "The tenants are enjoying a very low rent from the school system, but the building loses money."
Councilman Jeff Marty said the building and the village's plans for it have come up in the public comment period of the last several council meetings.
"The same group of tenants state their piece," he explained.
Mr. Guzman and Mr. Marty both favor the demolition/park plan and said they believed a majority of council did as well.
Every night, according to Mrs. Giovannucci, somewhere between 17 and 25 cars fill the parking lot at Dudrow. Parents drop off their kids for dance classes and tae kwon do lessons. Artists stop by for Mrs. Bersee's pottery classes or Mrs. Giovannucci's paint studio. Worshippers from the community attend services in the basement.
Mrs. Bersee and Mrs. Giovannucci point to the nearby Monclova Community Center as an example of an analogous project carried off with great success. Led by the Monclova Historical Foundation, community residents transformed an old school building into a thriving recreational center in 1997. For less than $800,000, the building was completely renovated and brought up to code, and now plays host to wedding receptions, baby showers, Boy Scout meetings, local seminars, and exercise programs.
Mrs. Giovannucci is quick to point out that the condition of the Monclova building in 1997 was significantly worse than the current condition of the Dudrow Building. It had been empty for 25 years, the basement was flooded with a foot of water, every wall needed drywall, and the roof had partially caved in.
By contrast, the Dudrow is in great shape, would require only minor repairs, and is already active with several resident groups.
Proposed uses of the new Waterville Community Center project include a senior day care, a community youth program, Boy and Girl Scout meetings, a community kitchen for fund-raising events, a gymnasium and cafeteria available for free to local nonprofit groups and for rent to private parties, a nature center attached, satellite classes from local universities, and large-scale community social events open to the public.
But despite these ambitious proposals, things are already looking grim for current residents of the Dudrow Building. All resident groups received their eviction notices in April.
Classes must cease by June 30, their possessions must be removed from the building by July 30, and the town council will repossess the building for good starting Sept. 1.
Already tenants "have been dropping like flies," said Mrs. Giovannucci. For Tim Bickel, whose "River of Faith" Christian group uses rooms in the Dudrow basement, the eviction deadline is too soon to allow for any hope of persuading village officials to re-evaluate.
Mr. Bickel has recently begun moving out and has already committed his group to a room at the local YMCA.
"We're coming to the deadline now, and we've resigned ourselves to the fact that we need to have a place," said Mr. Bickel.
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