The town of Signal Mountain is entering into a memorandum of agreement with the Signal Mountain Elementary Preservation Fund, a charitable nonprofit focused on raising money to preserve the historic school building that is now the Mountain Arts Community Center.
The agreement was discussed at a special-called meeting April 24, when town councilors and members of the nonprofit's board and the community center's board met to discuss the plan for the building moving forward.
"I think everyone sitting in this room, including myself, wants to see this succeed," Mayor Chris Howley said to those in attendance.
The memorandum of agreement will give the Signal Mountain Elementary Preservation Fund organization, which recently submitted its application for 501(c)(3) status, permission to raise funds in the name of the town. It will also require the nonprofit to be transparent with the town regarding the funds it raises, and to use the funds only for projects at the center that are approved by the town council, said MACC Director Barb Storm.
The first project the nonprofit group will contribute to is the renovation of the back portion of the building. In addition to installing sprinklers, work to be done includes grading to direct water runoff away from the building, as well as the addition of ramps around stairways to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Councilman Dick Gee asked the Preservation Fund to enter into an agreement stating that it would split with the town the approximately $70,000 cost of adding sprinklers to the back portion of the building. Storm said the council agreed at its April 27 budget meeting to include $35,000 for the remaining sprinklers in the town's budget for the next fiscal year, though the budget has not yet been approved.
The community center's board of directors has raised $27,000 over the past six years, which is currently in a fund managed by the Community Foundation, that will go toward the cost of sprinklers in the back of the building. And the Signal Mountain Elementary Preservation Fund is contributing the $6,000 the nonprofit has raised so far, as well as the approximately $1,000 it expected to raise through ticket sales for a benefit concert held last weekend, Storm said.
The work is a continuation of upgrades to bring the historic building up to today's standards.
In February 2016, the council voted to spend $300,000 to make repairs and install sprinklers in the front half of the community center. That amount includes $28,000 donated to the town by the now-dissolved MACC Foundation, a former volunteer group of residents dedicated to raising funds for the MACC. The donation was earmarked for installing sprinklers in the 1924 building as required by the state fire marshal, Storm said.
"We only did the partial approval [of all the needed building repairs] because of the limitation of funds to do a complete renovation of the building," said Gee.
In the front of the building, the floor will be repaired in three different areas, grading will be done to draw water away from the building and keep it from flowing underneath, and a couple of new sump pumps will be added under the building along with vapor barrels in the crawlspace.
That project has gone out to bid, with bids due by May 7. The winning bid is expected to be approved at the council's May meeting and work can start immediately after.
The sprinklers are expected to be installed in the front of the building by the end of August, and the other repairs should be complete by September, said Storm.
Once work begins on the front portion of the building, she said the town plans to submit a plan for the back portion to the state fire marshal's office.
Storm hopes to have work complete on the back portion by 2019.
That portion of the building will be used temporarily while work is completed on the front, but according to the current plan approved by the state, once classes move back into the front, the back portion must remain unoccupied until sprinklers are installed, said City Manager Boyd Veal.