Woodrow Wilson site ‘money pit’, say school officials | Education

DECATUR — School officials have described the former site of Woodrow Wilson Junior High as a “money pit,” ruling it out as a possible location for a new Dennis School.

The description came during a Monday meeting of the Decatur School Board’s finance committee.

Kent Metzger, building and grounds manager, told council members who were present that Woodrow Wilson, built in the 1930s, sits on 2.14 acres. At that time, students and many teachers walked to school because they lived nearby. With the need for parking lots now, this site would not be big enough, and buying houses nearby could take months or even longer, and in some cases might not be possible. The best the district could hope for in the corner where the building sits, bordered by Sunset, Oakland and Cottage Hill streets, is a total of 7.3 acres, which it says would be a tight fit.

However, during the initial phase of searching for properties in the west, Taylor said he discovered “a mess” when it came to property deeds. Of the 26 properties the district would have to purchase to acquire those 7.3 acres, many have disputed deeds and liens that would first need to be cleared. And if one of the owners refuses to sell, it might not even be possible to acquire the properties at all.

The asbestos used in the construction of the building in the 1930s should be removed, and the building should be gutted and rebuilt, said board chairman Dan Oakes.

“It would be a money pit,” he said.

The board was looking to use federal COVID relief funds to build a new school to replace the existing Dennis School. These funds are expected to be utilized by September 2024, an unlikely prospect given all of the cited issues with acquiring the additional land that would be required.

The board had previously said it had done an exhaustive search of the western end of the district, where the new school should be located, and had initially chosen a portion of Lincoln Park. This site attracted much public opposition, but it was not until the Decatur Park Board decided not to sell the necessary property to the school district that the location was removed from consideration.

Those who oppose the Lincoln Park location have often cited the Woodrow Wilson site as an alternative. Board members repeatedly stated that the site was not a viable option, which was reiterated at the finance committee meeting.