Magnolia Springs purchases old schoolyard

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 12/7/18

MAGNOLIA SPRINGS – Across the road from Magnolia Springs Town Hall is a vacant piece of property, approximately 3.7 acres. The land is actually a total of 4.7 acres, and the town’s Volunteer Fire …

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Magnolia Springs purchases old schoolyard

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MAGNOLIA SPRINGS – Across the road from Magnolia Springs Town Hall is a vacant piece of property, approximately 3.7 acres. The land is actually a total of 4.7 acres, and the town’s Volunteer Fire Department occupies the east one acre. Together, the property makes up what is known as the old schoolyard, where the town’s first Magnolia Springs School (originally Richard Kelly Frank School) was located, before it burned down in 1985.

“The property was originally donated to the State Department of Education to build a school by Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Frank,” said Magnolia Springs Mayor Bob Holk. “Their son had drowned in a swimming accident on Magnolia River, and so the property was donated.”

The school was erected in 1927, and held three rooms. The schoolboard opted to not rebuild once the school was destroyed, instead opening the current Magnolia School in 1999. The east one acre of property was leased to the fire department.

“That schoolyard is such a big part of the town that from the time we incorporated we started trying to figure out how we would obtain not only the use of it, but the ownership of that property,” said Holk. Without ownership, the town does not have the opportunities to build on the property, hold major events, or seek grants to improve the land. “It was around 2008 we started talking with the schoolboard about purchasing the property, but since then the schoolboard has gone through several different superintendents. It seemed like every time we would come close to coming together on a deal, there’d be a change in superintendents and we’d have to start over. When I became mayor, that was one of the biggest things on my list that I felt like I wanted to accomplish: to purchase the old school property, and the council has always been 100% behind that.”

After years of discussion, Holk has accomplished the town’s goal. After several meetings with superintendent Eddie Tyler, the property was appraised. The town felt the appraisal came back higher than should be, due to it assuming changes of zoning. Holk communicated with Tyler what the town was willing to offer, stating the board would be getting present value as well as doing the community a service, as the plans for the property have always been to keep it in public use. The board came back in agreeance to the town’s offer, and during the Nov. council meeting, the council voted to have Holk sign the purchase agreement, which will now have to go before the schoolboard as well as Governor Kay Ivey.

“I think it’s just a win/win,” said Holk. “The schoolboard is getting a good sum of money out of it, and the citizens of Magnolia Springs will have a place to go.”

While nothing is set in stone and there are no definite plans for the location, one of the stipulations in the purchase agreement is that it will be kept for public use, which is what the town is looking to do. Holk said when the town first incorporated a comprehensive planning session was held, and during that meeting many discussed the schoolyard property being the recreational center of town.

“I foresee us having several public town hall meetings like we did with the comprehensive plan, and invite the public to come and basically talk about what we want for this piece of property,” Holk said. “It’s such an important part of Magnolia Springs, and I have my thoughts on what I’d like to see there, but other people may have other suggestions.”

A few of the current thoughts for the property include a new Town Hall and Public Library, with a larger space within the town hall, holding up to 50 people, as well as a more open location for the library. A kids park has been discussed, along with a recreational field, a center gazebo with a bandstand where performances can be held, a walking path around the perimeter, an exercise station, and additional parking.

“We’ve hosted events in town in the past, and I would love to get those started here again,” Holk said. “That property would give us a great place to do it, something similar to other county parks.”

The east area of the property suffers drainage issues, but with the purchase of the property the town plans on seeking grants to help deal with them. Holk says the town plans to work closely with the fire department to ensure they either own their property or are secure they will not lose it for any reason.

The timing of the purchase is serendipitous, as Holk has been invited to join in on Design AL’s 2019 Design Summit, which will take place in February at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel.

“Design AL is an organization that promotes using good design principles when you do things in communities or towns,” said Holk. “Once a year they have a Design Summit where they invite five mayors from the state of Alabama, and each of those mayors will present a project they’re looking to do within their community. Since I knew we were getting close to purchasing the school property, I felt that was a great project for us.”

While attending the summit, Holk will discuss the project with a team of professional designers and landscape and building architects, who will critique the property and make suggestions on fulfilling the plans, as well as kicking ideas around the table for potential use. A representative from Design AL has met with Holk onsite to take a look at the property. Holk hopes to schedule a public meeting prior to February to hear from the citizens what they would like to see done so he can take their suggestions to the summit.

“This property will remain in public use, and that’s the way it should be,” Holk said. “It was originally donated for that purpose, and we’d like to keep it that way. There’s nothing like it, we’ve looked around Magnolia Springs and it’s so centrally located, and such a big, blank canvas. I’ve always had a passion for parks, I think that’s what makes a town. If you want to know what type of community is in a town, go look at their parks. If they have nice parks, that means they’re interested in more than just coming and going to work every day. I think this is going to be a great asset for us.”