We understand the hesitation of county commissioners to conduct a study of a county-owned building in Helena to determine if it may be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
County staff told commissioners that, once the study is completed, it would likely take several million dollars to bring the Old Helena School up to code – not to make it usable, but just to bring it to the point where it could be safely used.
What the building would be used for remains unclear and with no particular direction in mind, commissioners were hesitant to start down that road.
School system leaders, who once thought the county could look at consolidating schools is now finding out that it’s actually short on space. They have asked commissioners in recent months not to make any commitments for the use of the building in the event that the school system sees a need to use it for its purposes.
A study by some students from the University of North Carolina students suggests that private development will be necessary to justify the expense of renovating the building and making it usable again.
But it seems unlikely that a private investor could get his or her money out of a project like that. Though Timberlake and the southern part of Person County is growing, there is not enough population to support a large commercial center.
As painful as it may seem, county commissioners should probably consider another alternative: tearing the building down and putting the empty ground to some other good use.
We are especially loathe to suggest the destruction of any old thing because of the loss of the history. People in the Bethel Hill community did a first-rate job saving and putting to use the old Bethel Hill school and after nearly 100 years, the building is still used for its intended purpose: a school. The facility remains a center of community activity as only schools can. And, had there been an equally aggressive community effort focused on the old Helena School when it ceased being used, we feel sure efforts could have been made at that time to preserve the facility for whatever purpose it was put to.
But years of decay have left a restoration job that is bigger than the county is likely to be able to take on.
We wish that were not the case, but if we are pragmatic, it’s hard to argue that the best use of county resources in this case would be to start over.