“I attended class in this building many, many years ago,” Pontiff said. “My children came to school here, my mother was in the first adult education graduating class in the City of Franklin many years ago, and my father was a carpenter who built many of the houses for the late Sen. Lee Firmin who was a developer of many of the neighborhoods in Franklin and the surrounding area. This is an especially important meeting for me.”
The city has leased the building for some 20 years from the school board and recently came to an agreement to purchase it for $35,000.
“It would be a shame for this building to have gone by the wayside like many historic buildings have in the past,” Pontiff said, complimenting the city on the acquisition.
Former mayor Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) said “about 20 years ago this building was where we eventually moved after Hurricane Andrew…it was a perfect fit for us, we did a lot of work in here, and it was our hope to buy it at some point and it’s finally come true.”
Jones recalled that when the school, which was shut down in the mid-1980s in a wave of closures by the school board, was leased to the city “there was one caveat that (school board member) Mr. Oswald Melancon said the only requirement for him to vote for this lease is that the name E.A. Crowell be erected somewhere on this building so that it will always have that name. The sign is still up there.”
Jones said the building represents over one hundred years of memories and is an icon in the city.
Mayor Harris, then chief financial officer for the city, said when Jones brought him in to see the building two decades ago “there were raccoons running around in here, I said, oh, boy. My question at the time was where would we find the money? With our own crews and the money we did have we made it work. This place has served us well, we’ve been very comfortable. We looked around at other buildings but it always came back that this one was the best fit.”
Harris said waterproofing of the building will begin soon at about $1 million in cost.
He said he looks forward to “finishing up my career in this building, I think it’s going to serve many administrations to come.”
Councilman Eugene Foulcard, whose father Carl C. Foulcard was among the councilmen who pursued locating city hall in the school building, said “if we could have built a brand new city hall we would have, but at the same time this building was an icon in our community and is something that will live on for a long time. It was a good fit for us financially.”
Councilman Joe Garrison said the council “couldn’t have made a better move. It is a historic landmark, it’s a building that is Franklin and we’re proud to be a part of doing what we did tonight.”
“My biggest thing was trying to preserve the historic value of this building,” Councilman Dale Rogers said. “I think it’s a good move. We’re going to put a good chunk of money into it to get it into good shape.”
Councilman Chuck Autin, who opposed the purchase, concluded, “It’s done, let’s move forward.”