As a former public official, Earl T. Davis understands the importance of being accountable to the taxpayers. But as a private pending buyer of a public property, he also wants to get the best deal possible for himself.
Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis is recommending the school board sell the dilapidated but historic Bibb Elementary School to Davis for $15,000 — despite the Muscogee County Board of Assessors determining the property’s total market value is $340,680 and its 2 acres of land is $130,680. So when asked how he got MCSD to agree to such a deal, Davis had a simple answer:
“That’s what I offered,” Davis, who represented north Columbus in the Georgia Legislature as a Republican from 1968-74, told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Monday, the day before the Muscogee County School Board is scheduled to vote on the deal. He said he initially offered $10,000.
Through a spokesperson, Lewis said the district has tried to sell the property and that the assessed property is not the actual market value.
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“To clarify, per Dr. Lewis, MCSD is not selling the property for less than market value,” Mercedes Parham, director of communications for the Muscogee County School Board, wrote in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer. “The District’s long-standing efforts to sell the property indicate that the BOTA’s opinion of value does not accurately reflect the actual market value for this property.”
She said there are “a number of additional relevant factors” that have been presented to the school board and will be explained “in detail” at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Davis agreed. “The school district people recognize that they have an albatross there, regardless of what the tax assessor says,” he said. “The demolition bids, I understand, were in the range of $100,000 and up, and they’re not going to restore it. … So it’s been an expense to the school district. They should have unloaded it, as they acknowledged, 10 or 12 years ago when (former school board member) John Wells offered them $75,000 for it, and it has just gone down and become a bigger sore thumb since then.”
After stabilizing the building, which has a partially collapsed roof among its problems, Davis plans to convert the 103-year-old school into apartments or a group home.
“I have no firms plans on it,” he said.
But he vowed to do his best to save the beloved façade at 96 40th St.
“My commitment to the board is that demolition won’t be considered until every possibility of restoration is tried,” Davis said. “I will say my commitment to this thing could cost me as much as a million dollars. … I’m not a wealthy person, but I can handle the situation quite well. I’m not into this for what I can get out of it. It’s what I want to do for the community of Bibb City.”
Davis, 83, has a metal recycling and steel demolition business in Hamilton called Davis & Son, which also has roll-off containers available. Although he doesn’t have a direct personal connection to the school or Bibb City, Davis listed various ways the property is significant to him:
▪ While growing up in Toccoa, Ga., 200 miles northeast of Columbus, one of his vacation bible school teachers at Hill Street Baptist Church was Ethel Haney, who taught at Bibb.
▪ After moving to Columbus in 1961, one of his neighbors was Earl Ward, who had attended Bibb.
▪ Isaac McAllister, a superintendent of the former Bibb Mill, also was a neighbor.
▪ As a state legislator, Davis said, “Bibb City was always kind and generous to me. I believe I always carried Bibb City in each election.”
Mike Edmondson, a retired MCSD educator now teaching part-time at Columbus State University and working part-time as an administrative assistant at Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts, couldn’t raise the money needed to buy the school and convert it into an “iSTEAM center” for science and arts education.
Bibb Manufacturing built the school in 1915 for families living in the mill village. It closed in 2001, after the mill shut down. In November, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation released its 2018 list of the state’s top 10 “Places in Peril,” and the Bibb City school was No. 2.