Old military uniforms were left on a basement floor.
Hallways still have college posters tacked to the walls.
“It’s like they locked up one night at 5 p.m. and they never came back,” said Kevin Smith, the CEO and President of Community Ventures.
The five buildings that make up what was once the Millersburg Military Institute in Millersburg in Bourbon County have been vacant for more than a year. That’s when the last group that tried to revive the military academy left. And the ghosts of the storied military academy’s past were still here when Community Ventures took possession of the property earlier this month.
The Lexington-based nonprofit purchased the campus for $450,000 on Nov. 9.
On Tuesday, repairs were already being made to the entrance to the property, which is across the street from the Millersburg City Hall on Main Street. The group has hauled thousands of tons of trash to the dump as it prepares to transform the former campus.
The current plans call for the main administration building, called the Allen House, to be renovated starting this winter. The first floor will be turned into an event space for weddings and other special events. The second floor will become office space for Community Ventures, which specializes in encouraging both home and business ownership.
“MMI has been very important to this community for more than 100 years,” Smith said. “We want to open it back up to the community.”
The school’s gym is in good condition. It will need some repairs and renovations and a new heating and cooling system. Community Ventures has recently released a bid for schools or other groups to rent the facility that includes a large basketball court and a spacious basement with an exercise room.
Renovations of the main administration building will cost more than $1.1 million, Smith said during a tour of the campus last week. Renovation of the campus’ three other buildings — the main dining hall, a building used as a dorm and classroom building — will not begin for some time. Smith said they are still trying to determine future uses for those buildings.
Community Ventures’ investment in the property couldn’t have come at a better time for the town of less than 800, city and county officials said. Millersburg’s largest employer, a mining company, has struggled with declining employment after the facility was purchased by a series of employers. A new company — Murray Mining — has purchased the company and has told county and city officials it may ramp up employment at the Millersburg site. It only has about 15 employees.
That’s a steep drop from the more than 189 that worked there when it was Joy Mining.
Millersburg Mayor Samuel Chanslor said the Millersburg Military Institute has long been synonymous with the town.
“I was at the Grand Canyon and someone asked me where I was from. I told them Millersburg and they said, “Oh, yea, the Millersburg Military Institute,” Chanslor said. Chanslor’s grandfather is a graduate.
The school opened in 1893. In the 1940s and 1950s, it had an enrollment in the hundreds, but enrollment dropped over the years. Over the past decade various attempts to take over the school and make it a military academy again failed. It was sold in February of this year to Farmers Deposit Bank. Community Ventures purchased it from the bank.
“We have had a lot of problems with the organizations that were trying to run and occupy that property over the past several years,” Chanslor said. “We have been very impressed with Community Ventures. It’s a community organization that has a great track record.”
Smith said three years ago Community Ventures began targeting its business, home ownership and other programs to specific neighborhoods. In Lexington, Community Ventures is developing a multi-use development in the East End along Midland Avenue. In Louisville, it is focusing on the West End.
“This will be our rural site,” Smith said. “The buildings are only part of it. This gives us a good foothold for our other programs and expand them into the community.”
The group recently released bids for contractors to renovate the Allen building. They hope to start renovations this winter. The goal is for that building to be open in late summer or early fall. The bids for use of the gym will also be back soon. Bourbon Christian Academy has previously expressed interest in the property. Smith said he and his wife helped start the Bourbon Christian Academy and therefore will not participate in that selection process. It will be up to the Community Ventures board to select a potential tenant for the gym.
“We want to have some kind of museum for the Millersburg Military Institute,” Smith said. “We are currently collecting memorabilia and trying to track down memorabilia.”
Smith said before they consider what to do with the three other buildings, they want to hold a community-wide meeting to get more input. Community Ventures has presented its plans for the first two buildings to Chanslor and the Millersburg City Council.
Chanslor said the community’s response to the Community Ventures’ purchase of the campus has been positive.
“It is nice to know that someone has plans to honor the history of the property,” Chanslor said. “And we believe they have great plans for its future use.”
The group will not need to get a zone change, Smith said. They will use some tax credits to help restore and renovate the Allen building. A back porch for the Allen building that was added in the early 1900s but is not original to the building will be removed. Its support structure is rotting, Smith said. The front of the building will look the same when renovations are completed, he said.
“We are looking at raising some funds to help pay for the renovations,” Smith said. One estimate put renovations of the entire campus at around $6 million. Many of the buildings — including the classroom building — were in bad condition after years of poor maintenance.
Bourbon County Judge Executive Mike Williams said he is optimistic that Community Ventures’ investment in Millersburg will pay off.
“The community has struggled with a lot of uncertainty in the last decade or so,” Williams said. “For the last century, (MMI) has been a presence there in different capacities. It’s very much a plus for the community to see someone who is going to do something with the property and restore it and make it safe. This is an organization that has the resources and track record to get it done.”