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City interested in old middle school building

By By Sherry Digmon
Advance Staff Writer
The Atmore City Council wants to make sure the old Escambia County Middle School doesn't fall victim to vandals and deterioration.
At Monday's meeting, the council voted to approach the Escambia County Board of Education about the board's intentions for the building.
The action stemmed from Councilman John Watkins' request to go on record concerning the status of the building that has been abandoned for the new middle school on Highway 21.
Watkins said a friend with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) told him the city might qualify for a community enhancement grant regarding the building.
Councilman Jerry Gehman said he has heard several suggestions for use of the building – location for senior citizens' meals, police substation, place for reunions – and added that he sees a window of opportunity for the city.
Mayor Rodney Owens said there may be an opportunity, but there would also be a burden for the city.
Councilman David McKinley, who is employed by the school board, said he didn't want the facility to become an eyesore or be destroyed in a matter of months by vandals.
He told the council and audience that he went to school there for one year and taught there for eight years. Both his daughters attended the school.
Since the middle school building was not on the agenda, the council voted to add it to the agenda, then voted to get in touch with the school board and make the city's interest known. A letter may be presented at Thursday's board of education meeting in East Brewton.
The council also voted to have a committee explore possibilities for the building. Owens appointed Gehman, McKinley and Watkins to the committee.
McKinley asked audience members for their input.
Lillie Johnson said she attended grades one through 12 at the school and would support any use of the building except as a work release center, which had been suggested.
Atmore Police Chief Danny McKinley said he could remember the condition of the old junior high school building before the Lions Club renovated it. He said the old Kmart building is also badly deteriorated.
W.G. Johnson said he was surprised that an effort was not already under way to preserve the building.
Watkins said the council had waited because there had been talk of a community committee forming several months ago, but that apparently never happened.
Daniel Lyles suggested that Jefferson Davis Community College use the building since there had been talk of the college moving its Atmore campus into town.
However, as Owens pointed out, the proposed Kmart location is more suited since it's located near the high school.
Councilman McKinley also suggested talking with Melvin Middleton, park and recreation director, about use of the building, particularly the gym.