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Former students conflicted about demolition of old Amherst County school

Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:47:35 AM EST   Updated On: Sep 19 2013 06:45:25 PM EDT

The building's fate has been the source of debate in Amherst County for the past several years.


Sitting on the front stoop of her old school, Renee Thrasher can't help but smile about the wonderful times she spent here.

"My memories are here," Thrasher said.  "The people I met in the first grade are still my friends all these years later."

She still has her friends, but the school where she met them has been gone for decades.

The former Madison Heights Elementary School on Phelps Road was abandoned in the early 1980's when a new school was built.

"All my memories are tied up in this building and it's such a shame to see it go to waste," Thrasher said.

The once vibrant building is badly damaged from years of neglect.  Neighbors have complained that the dilapidated structure is hurting property values and posing a danger to children.

"Breaks my heart," said Tillie Hunter.  "It's a tear jerker."

Hunter attended classes in the building when it was Madison Heights High School.  It's been devastating to watch her alma mater slowly fall apart.

"It's just been sitting here vacant, with no one doing anything at all," Hunter said.

Hunter had high hopes when the building was bought in 2009 by a California man named Dennis Gibbs.  Optimism faded when he filed for bankruptcy the next year.

After trying to work with Gibbs and having no luck, county leaders have ordered that the school be demolished.

Former students regret the decision, but feel it's necessary.

"They really let it go too far and they really don't have a choice now, but I really feel sad about them tearing it down," said former student Kyle Baldwin.

The county is sending Gibbs a letter, letting him know he has 30 days to obtain a demolition permit.

If he doesn't comply, the county may end up tearing the building down for him.