When Paul Feeney and his wife got to town last week to begin their project of turning the old middle school into a family entertainment location they found that the building wasn’t in the same condition they had left it. Vandals had broken in and gone through smashing most of the glass and spraying graffiti all over the walls. The floors were covered with broken glass and broken light bulbs.
There were quite a few things stolen as well including a nice weight machine and various equipment and tools. Many of the kitchen appliances were damaged and broken. The vandals located some of the paint that had been stored by the previous owners and poured it out on the floor. A toilet had been pulled out of one of the rooms and thrown from the balcony in the auditorium.
Security cameras captured video of many of the miscreants and the police department is working on locating them.
All in all, it was a less than idea welcome to Fort Scott. Mr. Feeney said he briefly wondered if buying the building had been a big mistake, but after a few days of cleaning up the damage he is excited about the plans for the electric go-carts and other entertainment for the citizens of Fort Scott.
He still anticipates that the initial attractions should be opening in 2 or 3 years. The go carts will probably be put on the ground floor and the gym is the likely location for a climbing wall and possibly an indoor skateboard half-pipe.
He and his wife plan to live in the building and the tower in the center will be turned into an apartment with roof access and a great view of the city. Mr. Feeney said once he gets the glass cleaned up, his first priority is making sure the building is ready for winter and fixing any leaks in the roof that might lead to bigger problems later on. He said over all, the structure of the building seems pretty sound, but the roof has some leaks that need addressed–particularly in the center tower.
Another thing he is working on is getting a good inventory of what is actually in the building. He has found some unexpected surprises. There are a great number of what appears to be ceramic molds in what was once the cafeteria. It isn’t clear if those were put there by a previous owner or if they were part of the school. In a dark corner of the basement there are a number of canisters that appear to be rations and supplies from the cold war era.
The go carts that are planned for the building run on electric rechargeable batteries. Mr. Feeney expects the carts alone will cost somewhere around $200,000. He said his goal for the carts is to bring in enough to cover their operational costs and he is expecting to have a very hefty electric bill once things get going. He is less concerned about them bringing in enough to make money or even recover his initial investment.
Beyond the vandalism, there building has been left sitting for quite some time and is going to take some significant work. It appears that some previous owner may have removed much of the wiring to sell for scrap metal and the sump pumps in the boiler room haven’t been working so there is several feet of water in that area. There are many areas where the paint is peeling from the walls and plaster is falling off.
Despite all the work that is needed, Mr. Feeney’s enthusiasm is contagious and it is hard not to fall in love with the old building. Their goal of turning the school into an entertainment venue is going to require a lot of work, but it will be a great asset to the Fort Scott area and hopefully can serve as a model of what other communities can do with their large old buildings.