Mayor Brian Traugott has proposed that Versailles City Council explore the possibility of relocating the police department and other city services into an empty school building.
Traugott aired the idea during his State of the City address at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“The opportunity exists for the city government to look at that property as something we can adapt to house a new police station and potentially other city services,” Traugott said.
The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation said last year that the school, built in 1927 at Lexington and Maple streets, was in danger of being torn down. It originally was Versailles High School and later became Woodford County Middle School.
The building, now owned by Kentucky Bank, was sold by the Woodford County Board of Education in 2006 after a new middle school opened on the city’s southern edge. An effort to turn the old school and its 9 acres into a mixed-used project with apartments stalled after the economy soured in 2008, so the building has been empty for 10 years.
“With no known maintenance or preservation plan, concern exists that the historic Versailles High School will deteriorate from neglect and, ultimately, be demolished,” the Trust said last year.
The Versailles Police Department operates out of a city-owned building across the street from the Woodford County Courthouse. The city also leases space in a neighboring building for the police department.
But the department’s primary location is cramped, and some parts are structurally deficient, Traugott said.
“The community deserves a better police station than the one the department now operates from,” Traugott said in his address. “We demand a police force that is worthy of this great community, and we should provide facilities that are worthy of these individuals who dedicate themselves to public safety.”
The police department would not need the entire 57,000 square feet of the middle school building, Traugott said in an interview. “Which is why I was going to explore maybe some other city services down there,” he said.
“I would be willing to discuss a city hall, although a presence downtown is a pretty big deal,” he said. “We’re pretty good on space at the present city hall” on South Main Street.
Traugott’s idea of turning the school building into a police department garnered immediate praise from Woodford Forward, an organization that promotes, among other things, the adaptive reuse of existing buildings.
In a statement, the group said it “enthusiastically supports” the renovation and reuse of the building “as a city government building and police station. We are encouraged by the focus on existing buildings, and infill and redevelopment within the urban core of Versailles.”
Traugott did not give specifics on how to pay for reusing the school building. The mayor said he hoped to get a “ballpark estimate” of the cost with help from Billy Van Pelt, executive director of Woodford Forward.
John Soper, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority and a consultant to the city on job-growth issues, went inside the school last week to show it to a potential investor.
“It’s pretty rough inside,” Soper said. “As the real estate agent said, it’s deteriorated a lot in the last year. … It’s had some vandalism inside. It’s got some mold issues, I think. Any building that sits any length of time without heat is just going to deteriorate more and more.”
Soper said efforts to pitch the building as a potential site for office space or a hotel “haven’t really gotten any traction.”
“I know the city is very committed to trying to save it,” he said.
NAI Isaac, a Lexington commercial properties firm, has the middle school building listed for sale for $352,500. Lots behind the school also are for sale.
“Every day that building sits empty is another day closer to where leveling it is the only option,” Traugott said. The mayor, 36, attended middle school in the building.
Another school building in Versailles is about to find another use. AU Associates of Lexington is turning the old Versailles Elementary School on South Main Street into apartments for seniors and families. That same firm turned Midway School into apartments in the late 1990s.
Meanwhile, Traugott said in his address that “we are mere weeks away” from the formal announcement of a hotel being built next to McDonald’s and United Bank off the U.S. 60 Bypass.
A development group bought the property last year for $1.08 million with the hope of bringing new business to town.