When older buildings are involved, finding new uses for a property can be difficult because of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. This is why the small Indiana town of Fowler welcomed the recent news that it was to be selected for a $25,000 grant from the Indiana Finance Authority, the purpose of which is to pay for asbestos removal costs from just such an old building.
Asbestos removal and disposal is notoriously difficult and expensive, and is subject to tight regulations–violations of which can result in even more costly fines and other penalties. This is what the town of Fowler faced with the now abandoned Fowler Elementary School.
Due to a number of factors, not the least of which has been a dwindling population as people leave rural America for more lucrative opportunities in the big cities, the school was closed in 2006 and the students sent to a newer building. Since then, both the City of Fowler and the local chapter of the American Legion have eyed the site. The former sees the property as home for a new community recreation and multi-use center, while the latter wants the newer addition to the building as a hall for its members. In either case, however, there will be some expensive renovations and demolition involved, which will ultimately cost over $400,000 according to reliable estimates.
Removing the asbestos is step one, says Steve Wittenauer, local superintendent of schools. “The next thing would be if the $400,000 grant for removal were approved,” he said. Toward this end, it is important to establish just how the property is to be used. School district attorney Jud Barce added, “We’re trying to get our ducks in a row, so when we submit the grant, we know what will go in there. People who give grant money like to know the use.” Another nearby school building, which was also closed recently, continues to stand empty. However, unlike Fowler elementary, the former Oxford School has no potential customers. Barce plans to bring up the issue at an Oxford Town Council meeting this month. “The school corporation is interested in making sure it’s a positive experience,” he says, adding that “they want it to be a win for everyone.”