Vandiver split by school demolition

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The demolished 91-year-old Vandiver Schoolhouse left a muddy footprint in the unincorporated community after its destruction Oct. 18, just four days after a community meeting to decide the historic school building’s fate.

The Shelby County Historical Society has records of Vandiver School dating back to 1912, following reconstruction of the original 1904 building that burned.


With plans under way to build a new county park on the property that for nearly a century housed Vandiver School, some residents complained that their desire to see the school building renovated went unheeded by community leaders.

In particular, residents have lodged complaints against the Vandiver Civic Center Inc., a public non-profit group that includes the Vandiver Volunteer Fire Department.

According to Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock, discussions between the county and the Vandiver Civic Center began in 2002 in hopes of building a new park.

Dudchock said earlier in November that the county wants to build a park to serve communities in Vandiver, Sterrett and Dunnavant.

Following demolition of the school building to accompany the park on the same site, some residents questioned whether the park would be built for certain.

Dudchock said the county should have the initial park site plan ready to meet with the Vandiver Civic Center in a couple of weeks. He said a draft contract has been drawn.

The Shelby County Commission remains neutral on Vandiver internal affairs.

Dudchock said the county would proceed with plans for the park whether the school building came down or not.

&uot;The county had no involvement whatsoever in that decision (to tear down the school building),&uot; Dudchock said. &uot;(The county’s) goal is to construct a park there that the whole community can enjoy.&uot;

Echoing Dudchock’s comments, Shelby County Commissioner Ted Crockett said Vandiver was responsible for the school building not the county.

&uot;The county commission is not going to tell them what to do with that school. They need to decide,&uot; Crockett said. &uot;We’re trying to help the community. We want what’s best for Vandiver.&uot;


Some Vandiver residents complained the school building came down without a clear decision by the entire community.

On Oct. 14, the Vandiver Civic Center committee held a meeting to vote on whether to remove the school building.

According to Marion Watson, mediator at the meeting and first fire chief for Vandiver, the meeting was publicized by mail as required by the Civic Center’s by-laws.

&uot;We mailed notification about the meeting,&uot; Watson said. &uot;Nothing was done under the table.&uot;

Watson said he found out about county money available for parks when he looked into raising funds to renovate the school building. He said a representative from the county evaluated the feasibility of renovation.

One problem, Watson said, was the cost of building a handicap access ramp which would be required for the building.

Watson said the vote by members of the Vandiver Civic Center during the Oct. 14 meeting strongly supported tearing down the old school building, with 96 voting in favor of removing the school for the park to about 20 opposed.

Dennis Brasher is the current fire chief for Vandiver’s Volunteer Fire Department which is a part of the Vandiver Civic Center. He said the school building had been out of use for several years. At about 7 a.m. on Oct. 18, crews demolished the school.

&uot;We hated to see it go,&uot; Brasher said. &uot;We’re trying to help everybody but some don’t want to see any change around here.&uot;



Some Vandiver residents complained that the Civic Center and its board of directors are not elected and therefore not legitimate decision-makers for the Vandiver community.

&uot;At least give me a chance to vote on the person who’s going to make the decision to tear down the schoolhouse,&uot; said Byron Shaw, a lifelong Vandiver resident.

Betty Hyde of Vandiver said she visited the school building shortly before its demolition and indicated it was in decent shape and that the wood was not rotten. Hyde is also upset that the Civic Center organized the decision to tear down the building.

&uot;(The Civic Center) appointed themselves. They have never been voted in legally,&uot; she said.

The Vandiver Civic Center Inc. formed in 1969, according to documents from the Shelby County Probate office.

The Volunteer Fire Department formed in 1978 as a spur of the Civic Center.

&uot;It’s (the Civic Center) our community. We all work together over here,&uot; Brasher said. &uot;Maybe it will be the ‘city of Vandiver’ one day.&uot;

Crockett, whose district includes the Vandiver area, said ad hoc groups such as the Vandiver Civic Center form themselves and can approach the county commission for funding.

The original Articles of Incorporation for Vandiver Civic Center Inc. were recorded in the Shelby County Judge of Probate’s office.

Frank &uot;Butch&uot; Ellis, Shelby County attorney, described the Vandiver Civic Center Inc. as a public service group. He said according to the group’s 1969 charter, all residents 16 and older within the Vandiver area are considered members of the Civic Center.

According to Ellis, members in most public non-profit groups typically select a board of directors who appoint officers.

A similar group operates in Camp Branch, Ellis said.