But the renovations proved too costly and it has sat vacant.
“We just have to do something about it. It’s a target for arson, kids are breaking into it. I’m afraid somebody is going to get hurt,” New Carlisle City Manager Kim Jones said.
An arsonist spray-painted a circle and wrote “boom” on the roof of the building last month before setting a fire that burned through the concrete sub-roof of the school, Fire Chief Brad Phillips said.
Multiple burn locations were also found inside the structure where someone had set fire to trash, Phillips said.
He and Jones said the building has been the target of vandalism and vagrants for years.
New Carlisle officials want to sell the school building and more than eight acres surrounding it, which is zoned R2 or residential. City officials would also consider other options, Mayor Lowell McGlothin said.
A 2010 appraisal of the property valued the school at $50,000, although the Clark County auditor’s office has it valued at more than $724,000.
The city would likely accept $50,000 or less to sell it, Jones said.
A for-sale ad created by the city demands in all caps that the buyer demolish and clear the land as part of the sale.
Jones said this week the city would sell to a buyer wanting to rehab the building, but would place a strict time limit to prevent the property from continuing to sit vacant for years.
The plan when it was purchased was to use the building for government offices and a community center, but former city officials learned later that renovations would cost between $3.2 million and $5 million.
Officials then spent $320,000 for an architect and a new roof, Jones said, but the project was too expensive.
“The city just didn’t have the money to do it,” she said.
Then the state auditor’s office placed the city under fiscal watch in 2003 after an accounting error caused a roughly $800,000 deficit. The city was required to follow a financial plan approved by the state auditor, Jones said, and couldn’t use the money earmarked for the building.
McGlothin said he wasn’t part of city council when the property was purchased and wouldn’t have supported the deal.
He said some local churches have inquired about the building and are trying to come up with money to establish a community center on the property.
The city has looked to sell the property for years, McGlothin said, but no one has come up with funding to renovate or tear it down.
“I just wish it would either come down or someone would find a use for it,” McGlothin said.
Julie Ledbetter has lived across the street from the New Carlisle school for more than 30 years.
Residents in her neighborhood established a group called New Carlisle Green Space in the early 2000s after a developer considered building low-income homes on the property.
The group’s effort helped change the zoning to make sure homes built on the property would be similar in value to the the current neighborhood, Ledbetter said.
The school has sentimental value to the neighborhood, she said, but she would support development on the property.
“It’s a worry because some people are going to vandalize it. It’s kind of a worry in that way, but it is historic. But at the same time it would be nice if it could useful,” Ledbetter said.
Jones said officials want anyone who is interested in the property to make an offer.
“We just want to be rid of it,” she said.