Change of season
By Randy Garrison
There is a season for everything, as a friend shared with me after we made a big decision a couple of weeks ago. She mentioned that everything has a season, and changes are part of the process.
Sometimes it is time for a change to take place and for a new season to begin.
I thought of these song lyrics from a few moons ago: “To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn) and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to build up, a time to break down, a time to dance, a time to mourn, a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.”
The Burleson Center Board of Directors voted to turn the building formerly known as the original F.E. Burleson Elementary School back into the hands of Hartselle City Schools Board of Education.
The Board had a 99-year lease on the building and had operated the facility as the Hartselle Fine Arts Center and most recently as The Burleson Center.
While this was a difficult decision, it was the right one for the time and for the season we are currently experiencing. It has been a true pleasure and fulfilling time of my life to work with the board and other volunteers, along with the Hartselle Historical Society, to maintain and operate the 105-year-old facility.
Built in 1916, the grand old lady served the students of Hartselle until 2000, when a new facility was built on Bethel Road to house F.E. Burleson Elementary. At the time of the move, the school board did not have plans for “the old building,” as it was referred to, and the possibility of it being razed was a considered.
A group of citizens and members of the Hartselle Historical Society took on the project of saving the old building and beginning the process of rehabilitating the structure. Over the past 20 years, more than $2 million has been spent to refurbish and bring the building to the current state. Much of the funds were raised and or obtained through grants from the Alabama Historical Commission, along with annual fundraisers.
Updates include a new roof, removing carpet and refinishing original hardwood floors, 127 new windows, new HVAC on all three floors, updated and handicap-accessible restrooms, handicap accessibility ramp, repair of damaged plaster walls, new kitchen area for catering events, paint throughout the building and new lighting and audio video equipment as well.
The rehab and maintenance were an ongoing and expensive process. Also, providing insurance on the building and paying phone, internet and utility costs required thousands of dollars in revenue each year. Over the past 20 years, many of the HVAC units had been replaced as well.
All was well for many years. An annual fundraiser, as well as funds leftover from Camp Artselle, and rental of the building allowed the board to operate in the black and continue renovations of the old building as well as the maintenance and costs of operation.
But along came the effects of COVID. Rentals of the building stopped or were drastically reduced, fundraisers and Camp Artselle were canceled and limited funds were coming in to take care of operational costs.
Just for an example, the utility costs of the building averaged $400 or more per month, even without anyone occupying or using the facility and even with very little heating or cooling – of course, it can’t be completely turned off in order to maintain the integrity of the building.
We knew this could not continue without some type of change; it does take money to operate.
I had discussed this with Dr. Dee Dee Jones, and I was informed the school system might be interested in taking back possession of the building. After discussion with Dr. Jones and the Burleson Center Board, it was decided to terminate the 99-year lease and allow the school board to have management and use of the building again.
The school system will use the building for needed office space, and it also has possible plans for culinary and art classes. The facility could also provide room for professional development, among other potential uses.
The building is old, and it needs to be in occupied and in operation. For the past 18-20 months, it has basically been sitting unused, and that is not good for any building – especially one that is 105 years old.
So, a new season is in the works for the grand old lady. She still has lots of years left in her and deserves to be honored and kept up. She is a large part of Hartselle history and a symbol of the strong foundation of the educational system in Hartselle.
Thank you to everyone who supported the Hartselle Fine Arts Center/The Burleson Center over the past 20 years. She is in good shape and ready for the new faces who will enter her doors. Her new season is just beginning, and her purpose will be renewed and continued.