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Battle continues over fate of old Marquette school building

Old Marquette school building // WSBT 22 

What should be done with the old Marquette School building on South Bend's northwest side? Some say it should be torn down. Others say the vacant building should be restored. Ultimately, the future for the historic building, is unclear.

David Harrel has lived across the street from Marquette school for 39 years.

"My kids went there my grandkids went there," says Harrel.

Now, kids play in front of a new school, while the old Marquette sits vacant and boarded up.

"It should be taken apart and dismantled. it is an eyesore," says Harrel.

Tom Strykul, has lived in his home across from Marquette school since 1980. He also wants wants something done.

"It is not serving any purpose, I think it should be taken down," says Strykul.

Strykul and Harrel both agree they would not like to see it turned into apartments and say it would be a waste of money to turn it into anything else.

Not everyone agrees with that. Damien Williams went to school in there.

"They should make it into a recreational facility for the kids to go to," says Williams who thinks tearing it down would be a waste.

Opinions on what should be done to the old building are just as varied in the neighborhood as they are in the board room.

In August, the Historic Preservation Commission denied the school corporation's request to demolish the building.

According to the South Bend Tribune, corporation officials argued building maintenance was too costly and that more green space would be best for students.

SBCSC Director of Capital Projects, Mike Szymanski says the district is already struggling to come up with money to fix the buildings that are currently in use and putting money into a building they want to demolish wouldn't make sense.

Elicia Feasel, the executive director of the Historic preservation commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County has suggested the commission may look favorably upon a plan to demolish the 1948 and 1953 additions onto the school while keeping the most historic part of the building which was built in 1937 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal — a massive make-work program to pull the country out of the Depression.

"The building is structurally sound as of the last report that our office reviewed," says Feasel.

"Let's find a reuse that can make it an asset so it doesn't look bad," says Todd Zieger of Indiana Landmarks, "we want it to look good."

The building was recently placed on the Indiana Landmarks 10 Most Endangered List.

Zieger believes the school district is neglecting the property. He calls it "slow demolition by neglect."

Instead, Zieger has suggested a collaborative approach to deciding the building's future.

"We didn't ask the school corporation to invest money in this building other than routine maintenance which would normally be asked. We said we would like to find an alternative use that would not require the school corporation to put dollars into the building," says Zieger.

"There is no purpose to it. My goal is to not have that building there," says Szymanski, "why would I meet to find plans to make it into something we don't want to make it into. It compromises safety on site and the learning of the children in the new school."

Szymanski says the school corporation has plans to tear it down and add green space and walking paths, a soccer field and a monument to the old school.

Szymanski says the idea of turning the building into an alternative use is not on the table for the district.

"My thought is, for someone to invest in the building they would want some type of rights to the building. If we would give up rights to the building or long term care it will affect us either monetarily or we lose possession of it and I don't want to spend a dime on that building," says Szymanski.

The school corporation has already set aside the $800,000 for demolition. Szymanski says the money was set aside more than a decade ago when the plan for the new school began to take shape.

For now though, that money will continue to sit. The corporation cannot move forward with demolition without a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission although it could look to the city's common council to override the Historic Preservation Commission's decision.

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