One hundred and twenty-two years ago, Washington Gardner became Vice-President and professor of Biblical History and Literature at Albion College. After serving for five years, Gardner became Michigan’s Secretary of State and a U.S. member of Congress.
To celebrate his legacy, locals named Washington Gardner High School in 1928. Now, Albion College has recovered the abandoned building from the Albion Public School District after student enrollment dropped by 59%.
“It is a very positive thing that Albion has taken over that building,” said Dan Skean, Albion College Biology professor and School Board president. “It’s not only relieved the district of the utility cost of the building, but it’s also pretty much a guarantee that the building isn’t going to fall into disrepair and become an eyesore.”
How Albion College is going to use Washington Gardner is still a mystery. The College placed the bid in the summer, but didn’t acquire it until December. Todd Tiekele, Director of Auxiliary Services, is now searching for developers.
“We’re in an exploration phase,” said Albion College president Donna Randall. “He [Tiekele] gives them a tour and then asks them what they propose with the building. So far, he has had four to five groups come through and has another group coming by this week.
The future of the space depends on what all of the developers propose, but Randall said one of the ideas is a green space. She assures students that the project will be “cost neutral,” won’t raise tuition, and that they will have a say in the space’s use, if it relates to them.
“I don’t think we should knock it down,” said Dorothy Cheng, Ann Arbor sophomore. “It could use some renovations, but it would be cool to make it a recreation center.”
Albion College obtained the 120-square-foot building without paying a dime since it was taking the liability off of the district. Still, a financial crisis looms.
“There was a bond issue because there were improvements that were made to the building between 1996 and 1998,” Skean said. “In fact, the school district still owes money on that bond, probably close to $5 million.”
That money went into infrastructure updates, an elevator system, technology upgrades, and improvements to the atrium. Randall knows the bond exists and that it continues to burden the district.
“We were the only bidder, so our gift was taking over an approximately $100,000 a year cost,” said Randall. “But that [bond] is something that the taxpayers will continue to pay because you have to pay off the bond. Our contract says we have no liability for it.”
Although the College saved the building, locals are not pleased with the situation.
“That’s a historic building that’s connected to many people in this community,” Skean said. “They didn’t like seeing it closed and wished that it could’ve been repurposed in some way. Some people went K-12 in that building, some people taught their whole careers in that building.”