Mayor, others work to save old middle school
Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott would like to save the building where he attended middle school, but even the highest-ranking city official's powers are limited when it comes to private property. Constructed in 1927, the building on the corner of Lexington and Maple streets first served as Versailles High School, then became Woodford County Junior High School in 1964 when a new high school opened on Frankfort Street. It closed in January 2005, when the new middle school off Falling Springs Boulevard opened. Right now, the prospect for saving the building seems dim, but Traugott and others haven't given up hope. High school student Jordan Nichols posted a video with pictures of the school on the Voices of Versailles Facebook page and began a Go Fund Me drive to raise money for the effort. Kentucky Bank is the primary owner of the 1.4-acre parcel, and the fact that most of that space is taken up by the building, leaving little space for parking, poses a challenge for reuse, Traugott said. "Clearly, they're doing the abatement, which ... could be a precursor to redevelopment, but it seems more likely that it's a precursor to demolition," Traugott said. "The lot probably, inarguably, is more valuable without the building on it, from their perspective." Kentucky Bank officials were not available for comment. Traugott said the bank's obvious intention is to sell the property. "They would not develop it. It's a matter of who would come in afterwards and try to gobble up the land, and I really have not heard of a (possible purchaser)," Traugott said. Asked why he wanted to save the building, Traugott cited its "deep, ingrained impact on so many people, myself included. My dad went to school there. And visually, when you're coming into town, it's a landmark, for lack of a better term." His feelings were echoed by many on Facebook and by retired teacher Peggy Carter Seal, who went to high school there. "Those halls have some wonderful memories," said Seal. Traugott, a former member of the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission, said his attempt to save the building is two-pronged. The Planning Commission's Board of Architectural Review could be asked to study the matter, but might still give the go-ahead for demolition if it was judged the most "economically defensible" thing, he said. Another strategy, which Traugott raised at Tuesday's Versailles City Council meeting, would be to have the council apply for a rezoning and extension of the downtown historical overlay district. "If you do that, then it still can technically be demolished, but Architectural Review would have to give their blessing," Traugott said. Traugott said he's aware that some will oppose any move that could lessen the value of what is now private property. "That's a tough argument to get into, because we do always want to respect private property rights, and there's never a real fine line between private and public use. I think the fact that it's owned by an entity that is not a developer, not a construction firm, not somebody who's going to be the end user, makes a difference in my approach," Traugott said. "This is not somebody who bought the property to do something with and we're coming in to stop it or change the trajectory of it. This is an entity that's just trying to unload it." If the council votes to rezone the property, the Planning Commission would study the matter and issue a recommendation - which the council could then choose to endorse or ignore, Traugott said. He said he's gotten limited pressure from people on both sides of the issue, with some saying the building has outlived its purpose, is a borderline eyesore, and is a lure to vandals and a hazard to trespassers. Traugott said after starting a conversation about the property with the council Tuesday, he'll reach out to Kentucky Bank leaders to include them. "They certainly should have a seat at the table. It's their asset," he said.