The plan to renovate the old Bibb Elementary School into an iSteam Center for science and arts education has fallen through.
“We’re going to have to drop the project. We just don’t have the money,” said Mike Edmondson, the retired Columbus educator who was spearheading the project. “We don’t have the financial backing at all.
“Everybody I talked to said that it was a great idea, a good project, they were very supportive, but you gotta have the money to back it up,” he added.
Edmondson was planning to transform the dilapidated space into a technology hub. The site would feature a glassblowing area, pottery kiln, rooftop astronomy platform, hydroponic greenhouse and more.
The building was shuttered in 2001 and has fallen into deep disrepair. The roof has collapsed and rain has severely damaged much of the interior. The costs to clean up, stabilize and then renovate the project were substantial.
“The state environmental protection agency estimated that it would cost $193,000 to get all the bad stuff out of there and to clean it up,” Edmondson said.
He got another estimate on what it would take to stabilize the building by outfitting it with an internal skeleton and roof. That would cost another $400,000.
To create the final finished structure, including furnishing the building with equipment, would then cost more than $8 million, Edmondson said.
He said he raised about $5,000 from various community members, which he used to commission inspections and hire a lawyer and accountant for the nonprofit that was working to fund the project.
For the rest of the funding, he planned to use a combination of grants and partnerships. Those never materialized. Partnerships he explored, such as one with Green Coast Enterprises, a company helping redevelop the City Mills area, didn’t pan out either.
“It’s just mystifying to me that we let this building sit here and rot away. Why was it ever allowed to get this way?” he asked. “If this had been been fixed years ago, it never would have cost near this much.”
Edmondson said he was grateful for all the support he received from the community, and from Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis in particular.
“He was a very strong advocate of historic preservation,” he said. “This building was collapsing before he even got here.”
With the closure of the renovation project, the historic building’s future is uncertain. It remains the property of the Muscogee County School District.
“I just hope the building lives through what comes next,” Edmondson said. “There’s just so much stuff going on in town now, there’s all that money still being raised. It just felt like now is not the time people could commit money to it.”
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE