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Committee wants control of Booker High campus

By Sherri Ellington After a year of study, a committee looking into the fate of the old Booker High School building has determined at least one thing: The property is owned by the Georgia National Guard. One group would like to see the complex restored. James Holloway gave a report from the committee chaired by Commissioner Benny Horton at the Jan. 20 Lamar County commission meeting. He said the group also determined the site was named to the National Registry of Historic Places as what Holloway called one of 500 ‘national equalization schools,’ a status requested by the owner. The campus housed black students before schools were integrated. ’We’re researching facts on environmental cleanup of asbestos and other hazardous materials,’ said Holloway. ‘We want the facts and liabilities of local ownership.’ Last year, when the building still housed the Carrera program and Lamar County Activity Center, grant giver Morehouse School of Medicine wanted the buildings in local government hands, not that of the state. A tour revealed not only asbestos but infestations of black mold. Both are hazardous to people; they are expensive to clean up and eradicate. Some buildings are falling down. The committee wants local control of the building to house business and community service uses. Holloway noted he did not want local taxpayers responsible for the building as it is. He said he proposed the National Guard seek grants for cleanup. The committee is awaiting a response from the Guard on that and securing the facility to keep people out of harm’s way. ’It’s right in the center of our county. We’re pursuing this so the whole community can use it,’ said Holloway. ‘It has to be turned back over to a government entity, the county, city or school board. We’re not prepared to ask anyone to consider this until it’s safe.’ He said no date has been set for another meeting with the Guard because it is researching information on the building. Commissioner Van Baker asked if the Guard had indicated it would begin a phase 1 or two environmental assessment. He was told no. ’Phase one is a visual inspection, which the county has already done,’ said Baker. ‘Phase two is sampling the walls and so forth. I’d really press (the Guard) to do these. It’s what has to be done to get this thing moving.’

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