Refurbishing Hayden #8212; at what price nostalgia?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 29, 2007

The controversy over refurbishing Hayden High School reminds me of a quote often used by my late father, who had a reputation as an excellent steward of his money: “When money talks — the truth is often silent.”

For those intent on “sidling up to the taxpayer trough” to fund the project, the idea of refurbishing Hayden into a mixed-use building probably sounds like a great idea. Taxpayer money is “talking to them.”

But if refurbishing Hayden makes economic sense with the help of taxpayer funds — which is probably the only way it will happen — shouldn’t the refurbishment also make economic sense with private sector funds? The truth is silent.

When applying two basic tenets of “Real Estate 101,” prudent businessmen who are versed in these basics would probably look askance at sinking their own money into the project.

The first one is: “More buildings are torn down than fall down.” This axiom relates to economic obsolescence — when a building has outlived its useful life and the cost of refurbishment does not make economic sense.

The second principle is — “the highest and best use of the land.”

Sometimes the land underneath and surrounding a building is worth more than the building.

With these aforementioned real estate basics in mind, the proposed Hayden project isn’t such a great idea. Should nostalgia and the availability of taxpayer funds be the determinants when making the decision to refurbish a 55-year-old derelict building? A look into Franklin’s past can provide the answer. Many of its old buildings have succumbed to the wrecking ball: the old Franklin High School on Clay Street; the Stonewall Hotel at Fourth and Main; the A&P store on Second Avenue; the dozens of dilapidated row houses in Berkeley; and Raiford Memorial Hospital at Second and Main.

All of those buildings once had economic value. They also had historical significance after their economic lives. But applying the principles of economic obsolescence/highest and best use of the land, saving them made no economic sense.

Many people probably bemoaned their demolition and the heritage they represented but economics normally trumps nostalgia among prudent business people. Shouldn’t the stewards of tax dollars operate on the same principle? I think so.

Hayden has been vacant for 21 years, with the ravages of vandals and weather causing acute deterioration.

In addition

— asbestos — its carcinogenic dangers unknown in 1952 — was widely used throughout its construction. While not an expert on refurbishing old buildings, I know that the prohibitive cost of asbestos remediation has sounded the death knell of many old buildings.

In spite of this and other costly negatives associated with refurbishing Hayden, many people are eager to proceed with the project. Perhaps the “save-Hayden-at-any-cost crowd” could band together with other like-minded individuals


“put their money where their nostalgia/economic projections are” — raise money in the private sector and refurbish to their heart’s content.

However, those funds should not be used as seed money to obtain grants from the State of Virginia or Federal Community Block Grants. Some

politicians are ready to jump on the “save Hayden bandwagon” and “crow” about obtaining taxpayer grant money as if it is “found money”.

All taxpayer monies, whether state, federal or local, should be spent judiciously. Unfortunately, the Hayden project wouldn’t be the first recipient of taxpayer funds for what I think would be another “pork barrel/ boondoggle” project of dubious economic value.

Lest anyone consider me lacking nostalgic feelings and having no empathy for their angst about losing Hayden — a vital part of Franklin’s black historical legacy — tearing down Hayden doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing proposition.”

For a few extra dollars, some of the structural steel can probably be recycled and reused in new buildings on the site — perhaps in some “open beam” design.

Similarly, the bricks, as well as some of the lumber from the building can be recycled and used in new buildings. Those same “save Hayden politicians” can then rightfully boast about providing jobs in the community during this demolition and recycling process.

During the demolition, Hayden’s cornerstone can be saved and conspicuously incorporated into the design of a replacement building. For the people who hold an inordinate amount of nostalgia for Hayden and need its physical presence,

these vestiges of Hayden will be preserved not only for them but for many future generations.

My nostalgia for Hayden is bolstered by my subjective mind but tempered by my objective mind. I was seven years old when that “shining educational beacon on the hill” was built a “stone’s throw” from my family home on Cemetery Street (since renamed Hayden Drive). I eagerly walked to Hayden for five years (eighth through 12th grades) and, like most black people in Franklin, was immensely proud of “our” sparkling new high school.

Being an alumnus of Hayden (class of ‘63), my subjective mind keeps “replaying” fond memories of years spent at my alma mater socializing with my peers and, of course, cheering on the Hayden Wildcats. “Reruns” of days spent in some of my teachers’ classes: Mr. Wallace, (math/algebra), Mrs. Seward, (English), Mrs. Evans, (English/French), Mrs. Holloway (social studies), Coach Robert Sandidge, (phys. ed.) and Mr. Armstead, (chemistry/assistant principal) still occasionally flash through my mind. These and other dedicated teachers at Hayden prodded, cajoled and sometimes used the “ultimate weapon” — the threat of talking to our parents — to encourage our educational endeavors.

I once thought that wasting a

Saturday goofing off with my peers was a better idea than going to a science fair. After a short discussion between my father and Mr. Wallace, I was “convinced” to “get on the bus.”

Hayden’s teachers had high academic expectations of us. They were preparing us for what was still (pre-1964 Civil Rights Act and despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling) “a separate but equal society.” They were excellent role models and provided me a superior high school education. I will always have a special place in my heart for them and my Hayden experience.

However, my objective mind can separate the gratitude and nostalgia associated with my high school experience from the harsh economic reality of sinking monies — especially taxpayer monies — into refurbishing an asbestos-laden old building which should have been torn down years ago instead of being allowed to deteriorate into a blighted, neighborhood eyesore.

Of course, buildings cannot be compared to people but the principle is the same: When a person dies, the corpse is not kept as a reminder of the person but is buried because memories live on in our minds/hearts. The Hayden building is a “corpse” which needs to be “buried” — torn down.

To quote former President Nixon: “Let me make this perfectly clear…,” as a City of Franklin property owner and taxpayer, I am adamantly opposed to any tax monies being used to refurbish an economically obsolete “corpse of a building” — money that would be better spent on new buildings.

I also think that the use of city funds to refurbish Hayden would make a mockery of Franklin’s motto: “To protect the health, safety and welfare of the people who live, work and visit the City of Franklin by providing quality services in an effective and cost-efficient manner.”

Makalani Dingane, formerly known as Arthur L. Vaughan (Hayden class of ‘63), lives in Suwanee, Ga. His e-mail address is