Members of the Clinton Historic Preservation Commission recognize that they can’t save every building from the wrecking ball. What they want is a process.
The commission, which is tasked with ensuring the survival of the city’s past, expressed disappointment with the city’s perceived apathetic attitude toward preservation projects.
The potential destruction of the Roosevelt building, currently the headquarters for the Clinton Community School District, is the biggest project for the commission currently.
The building, a high school built in the 1800s, is not handicap-accessible, meaning the school board must vacate the premises, or upgrade the building to standards.
It is the fear of the commission, however, that the building will ultimately be demolished.
“I don’t know how they could even begin to justify (demolition),” said Sue Raaymakers, a new commission member.
The city currently asks property owners to seek a certificate of appropriateness before changes or demolitions begin on historic buildings, but the commission members said that the current Clinton ordinance is weak.
This is indicative of a lack of historical commitment throughout the city, the commission members believe.
Also considered was the potential to turn Fifth Avenue South into a historical district.
If successful, the area would join the Castle Terrace area as districts with perceived historical value.
“It’s the only one we have,” commission chairwoman Jan Hansen said. “It’d be nice to have another one.”
But the problem commission members face, they say, is the fear that property owners have about the designation.
Commission member Gary Herrity said that property owners can be intimidated by designation, afraid that it will make them powerless to modify their property. Herrity said that was a misconception.
“We’re a service to help,” Herrity said. “We’re not a boogey man saying you can’t do this or that.”
The designation would only provide a process, some modicum of control to keep the destruction of historical landmarks at bay. Like they plan on doing with the Roosevelt building, commission members decided to approach the Fifth Avenue situation one step at a time.
The commission approved starting the establishment of a historical district in the 800 block of the street, where support has already been garnered.
The commission will continue to expand from there.
The goal is to make people recognize and appreciate Clinton’s past, before it gets swept away — to just pause and think about the long-term ramifications of destroying or defacing a historic property.
Because once that ball gets rolling, according to commission member Robert Betsinger, it’s not going to be easy to get it to stop.
“To let (Roosevelt) go, all the rest will follow,” he said.