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Time for a new preservation effort?Posted Saturday, October 31, 2009, at 4:51 PM
Not the loveliest of terms, I guess, but I've been thinking its one we should start using around here more.
As Kathy Fairchild noted in her blog entry shortly after the McClure home was demolished, somebody should do something, and that somebody should be those of us who care about preservation.
Who is interested?
I know preservation is not an easy task.
I've talked to several people who were involved in an effort 10 or 15 years ago in Marshall to establish a historic district. They worked hard to develop the district, but ultimately did not succeed, and I know that was very disappointing for those who poured effort into the project.
That experience illustrates only one of the challenges preservationists face. In addition to resistance from opponents, economics present hard choices and big hurdles.
I admit I was once a Romantic Preservationist (any cool old building should be saved for eternity).
I got better. (I'll tell how I was cured another time.) Down that road lies disappointment and despair.
Effective preservation, I think, tempers a love for fine structures of the past with recognition that buildings have to be economically viable to survive: They have to generate enough value to justify their costs.
I look around downtown Marshall and within a block of the square can count half a dozen buildings that appear to my untrained eye to be at risk. A couple of them may be too far gone already. I don't like to imagine our town without them, but that's what eventually will happen, I'm afraid.
Maybe if some of us get together and start talking about how to encourage redevelopment and adaptive reuse where appropriate, it might not be too late to save some of our treasures.
I know it's possible. We have quite a few success stories already, with the courthouse renovation only the most visible and most recent.
I was also reminded of what's possible when my family returned to Champaign, Ill., for a visit a couple weeks ago, and as we were driving around our old neighborhood we passed Gregory School Apartments, an adaptive reuse project that was done several years before we moved there in 1997.
It's an old school that for various reasons had outlived its usefulness as a school, but the building itself was structurally sound. A developer remodeled it, and its still being used as a nice apartment building.
In 1992 it received a Heritage Award from Champaign County Preservation and Conservation Association.
It's only one of three old school buildings within blocks of where we lived that have been converted to other uses. Another old grade school near the Champaign library is apartments and the former Columbia Elementary, now Columbia Center, is still used by the school district for special education programs.
When Amy and I were first married, we lived in an old part of St. Joseph, just two doors down from what was called The Old Junior College, a school building that housed the precursor to Missouri Western State University. It was vacant, decaying, and one night we woke to the smell of smoke and flashing lights. It was burning.
Although the roof was destroyed and the third floor gutted, the rest water damaged, some developer saw potential, bought it and restored it. For years afterward, it was an apartment building for retirees. It may still be.
With some energy and imagination and money, old buildings can be reborn. If we start now, maybe we can avoid another McClure house debacle.
Say it again. Adaptive reuse. It's not poetic, but what it could do for the landscape of our towns can be.
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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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