By Keith Kappes - Publisher
Sept. 4, 2013 — History tells us that when Olive Hill built its new school on the hilltop in the 1920’s that members of the community circled the structure and prayed for guidance on how to best use it for the benefit of their children.
In keeping with that tradition, members of the Olive Hill Historical Society, Inc., did the same thing when the non-profit organization acquired the historic building in 1998.
Today, that shared dream of saving the old school for the benefit of the community seems closer than ever as the historical society prepares to take bids on the project for at least the fourth time.
It may have been that additional prayers were answered to put an end to money and related problems that have delayed the project for two years.
Now the group is armed with an additional $325,000 in new grant funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission to go with the $530,000 in federal funding approved in 2011.
“We are more confident this time that the total funds will be enough to do what has to be done to make most of the building safe and functional to meet all legal requirements and the community’s expectations,” said Linda Lowe, historical society president.
It is likely that the bid opening will occur this month, Lowe added.
Saving, restoring and adapting the old OHHS building for arts and education purposes no doubt will be the centerpiece of the historical society for years to come.
But what of the future of the all-volunteer organization? Of its dreams of finishing the bottom floor of the building? Of developing a permanent source of operating funds? Of perhaps acquiring nearby property for parking and other use?
“We have a committee chaired by Teresa Brown that is working on a strategic plan for the future,” Lowe added. “We realize that we have more questions than answers but we also know that our community wants and needs the benefits of a full-time community center and that we have shown that by working together we all can make it happen.”
Debbie Baker Harman, vice president of the historical society, also shared her vision for the future of the Olive Hill Center for Arts and Education.
“We want to see the center become a place for learning, for preserving and experiencing our history and cultural heritage, and for creating, promoting and presenting artistic works for the community and beyond, she said. “We want the center to continue to serve as a gathering place for celebrations and remembrances across the life span of young and old.”
Olive Hill High School closed in 1971 with the opening of West Carter High School. It was used as an elementary school for several years before the hilltop property was sold by the school board.
In terms of future finances, the historical society is proud of the fact that more than 200 current and former residents of Olive Hill continue to provide financial support annually for its projects and programs.
Private giving by individuals, businesses and organizations over the past 14 years has surpassed $260,000 and an estimated $1.3 million has been received in grants from 10 local, state and federal sources.
Based on an estimate of $190 per square foot for new construction, the cost of replicating the 24,000 square feet of floor space in the old high school today would be at least $4.5 million.
Once completed, the facility will house classes from Ashland Community and Technical College and the Olive Hill branch of the Carter County Public Library.
As for the question posed by the title of this series of articles, overwhelming evidence says there is no doubt that the Olive Hill Historical Society, Inc., is a friend of the community.
Keith Kappes can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 800-247-6142.