Work to restore former school building on hold
by Bailey Richards
HAZARD —Work to restore a historic building in the City of Hazard remains on hold this week as city and state officials work to determine whether the building, which was gutted by a fire in December, is safe to rebuild.
In December, the old Hazard High School building that had been converted to apartments caught fire and forced the evacuation of nearly 40 residents. From floor to ceiling, the building was burnt or damaged by water. The brick exterior was all that remained in some parts of the structure.
The building has been a landmark in the city since it housed Hazard High School and countless community events until the 1970s. The building was then converted to apartments where it continued to serve a purpose in the community, offering low-cost housing in town close enough for many residents to walk to work.
The fire caused the community to rally around both the residents of the apartments and this historic building. Many people in Hazard remember going to school in this building, and many more have become used to seeing it above the city as they come across the William D. Gorman Bridge or drive along the bypass.
When it was reported that the owners were in the process of rebuilding the old structure, many members of the community were happy to see that it would continue to be a part of Hazard.
However, according to City Manager Carlos Combs, the state fire marshal’s office has not cleared the building and are still continuing to investigate the fire.
“They (the owners) want to reopen it, but we cannot just say ‘Reopen it,’” said Combs.
Since the building was involved in a fire, the state fire marshal’s office will have to clear the building as being safe to enter, and according to Combs that has not yet happened.
“I asked him to hold off,” said Combs. “They have not determined yet whether they can reopen it or not.”
It is still unclear if the continued fire investigation will keep the building from reopening, but it will slow the progress. If investigators find that the building cannot be brought up to standards safely, the entire project may have to be aborted.
Combs said that the state building inspectors have been brought in to investigate and determine if the historic building can be brought up to current building codes, or if they may have to hold it to a historic standard.
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