Whitesburg KY

Work resumes at Old Jenkins High School

To the Editor:

After a brief lull in activity, work is set to resume shortly on the renovation of the Old Jenkins High School. Within the next two weeks workers expect to begin construction of an elevator shaft as well as the installation of new public restrooms. The completion of the main handicap entrance is also scheduled, which had been put on hold earlier this year due to a needed change in the plans. All the problems have now been resolved, and everyone is on the same page at this point.

In addition to the above-mentioned projects, demolition is also set to begin on the first floor. Clearing the level of debris and damaged floorboards is a necessary step toward renovation, and will prepare the rooms for further construction. Once all the proposed work is finished, the old school will be completed handicapped accessible. This should open the door to additional funding through state and federal sources.

The bidding process for these projects took several months to complete. In February 2007, the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted to approve the release of funds and advertise for bids. After the call for bids was posted in local papers, the fiscal court had to wait for proposals to be submitted. This took longer than anticipated, so contracts could not be awarded for several months. At the May 2007 meeting of the fiscal court, a bid submitted by Royalty Construction in Jenkins was accepted, and the company was awarded all three contracts. After checking with Sheridan L. Sims, the architect for the project, the bid was verified as being correct. Soon the sounds of hammers and power saws will again echo through the halls.

The Old Jenkins High School was constructed in 1912, with additions in 1924 and again in 1936. 1972 was the last year the building was used as a school, although the Jenkins Independent School Board had offices located in it for a few years after. The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted to purchase the school in the late 1970s and has been the owner for nearly 30 years.

In 1992 a grassroots organization formed with the goal of saving and restoring the building for future generations. The group became known as the Old Jenkins High School Renovation Committee, and has been an active participant in the project since its inception. Members attend each fiscal court meeting and present progress reports to the county judge and magistrates. The committee plans to continue until the day the renovation is complete, and the doors of the old school are once again open to the public.

Although the project has had its detractors, public opinion seems to be in favor the renovations. Many present and former residents of the county have been very generous with their donations, as have scores of alumni from the Old Jenkins School. In addition, fund-raising efforts by the Renovation Committee have been met with great enthusiasm by the public. Each week another call comes in to the committee requesting a tour of the school, and these requests are always honored. Recently two representatives associated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., toured the building. They were impressed with the beauty and historical significance of the project, and spoke of the importance of saving historical landmarks everywhere. They also vowed their assistance in locating and applying for additional funding through their many resources. True to their word, the representatives have provided several possible federal and private grant opportunities to the Renovation Committee. As this article goes to print, applications are being submitted to these sources as quickly as they are completed.

The Old Jenkins High School will soon be well on its way to completion. Hopefully, Letcher County, and the rest of eastern Kentucky, will follow this example, and historical structures throughout the region will be saved for use by future generations.

JIM POLLY Chairman Old Jenkins High School Renovation Committee

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