For the love of Annie

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Enormous persistence for enormous task

For the love of historical preservation, a small but dedicated group of people from all over Jacksonville meet nearly every Saturday, rain or shine, to haul trash from an abandoned school in Riverside.

Using limited tools and gloved hands, the Annie Lytle Preservation Group (ALPG) are painstakingly removing decades of rotted wood, broken plaster and shattered windows as well as the detritus left behind by squatters and vandals.

The end game, according to group founder Tim Kinnear, is to get the building in shape for a prospective buyer.

“We’re hoping to get it cleaned up to a point where an investor can look at it and say ‘Now I see what’s here and it’s worth putting money into it,’” said Kinnear.

There is no guarantee that this story will have a happy ending. Although ever the optimist, Kinnear knows that in the long run what could be a decade of sweat equity may not save Public School Number Four.

It’s truly a labor of love, with equal parts labor and love despite the enormity of the task.

Annie’s Back Story
Public School No. 4, also known as Riverside Park School, was established in 1891 to serve elementary age children in Riverside, but the existing structure known as Annie Lytle Elementary wasn’t built until 1917 through a million dollar bond floated to build a dozen brick school houses in Jacksonville.

The school was renamed in 1950 to honor Annie Lytle Housh, a teacher, then principal, who lived nearby. “Annie Lytle’s family lived so close she watched them build the school, knowing she was going to be a teacher here,” said volunteer Patsy Bryant.

The school, built by Florida Engineering and Construction Company, was completed in 1918 and its 16 classrooms served students for 42 years. After closing as a public school in 1960, it was a Duval County School Board administration and storage building, then was sold in 1975 to briefly house Central Christian School.

Sometime after that in the early 1980s, Foundation Holding bought the building and property and considered converting it into apartments for seniors but ultimately gave up the building for $86,000 in back taxes, while retaining most of the property around it. Tarpon IV LLC bought the building in 2010 for the cost of the tax deed but has no immediate plans for it.

“For a few years I was refused to work on the property because of liability. I negotiated a hold harmless with Tarpon Holdings to continue to clean it up,” said Kinnear. “Every volunteer has to sign a hold harmless waiver.”

The Core Group
Although Kinnear has been working on the clean-up since 2008, it’s only been in the last three years that he’s had a lot of help, especially with the interior of the building. Prior to this, a small group focused on cleaning up the exterior, removing dead trees and shrubs and pulling vegetation off the walls.

“We have a devoted group of about eight to 15 volunteers who attend almost every work day,” said Bryant, who became interested in the project because she loves old buildings.  Coincidentally, Bryant’s uncle attended the school in 1938 and Kinnear’s mother was a student there in the 1940s.

“We want to gut it to the bare walls, to the brick. The plaster is falling off and we scrape off what we can; we don’t have any tools or equipment to work with,” Kinnear explained. “Ironically, part of what we’re doing is to protect the “bad guys” who come in [and vandalize it].”

Kinnear, a former print technician who lives in the East Arlington area, said that people are intrigued by the place and they wander in all the time. “Part of our team secures the fences and repairs them. We are constantly securing the place,” he said. “People all the time want to photograph it. We can’t allow that or conduct tours because we’re under a hold harmless waiver.”

All of this work is done with shovels, wheelbarrows, a Sawzall® or two, and the paint to cover the graffiti is purchased by the volunteers. Kinnear cannot accept donations because ALPG is not a registered nonprofit…yet.

“We pay for everything. We can’t accept money until we become a 501(c)(3) but we have applied for nonprofit status,” Kinnear stated. “We could use [financial] help to rent a small front-end loader to scoop up stuff. The floor would sustain it.”

What happens at the end of the clean-up effort and no one expresses any interest?

“I don’t know what to say to that. You take chances all through your life. We have to take a chance,” Kinnear said. “If nobody doesn’t anything it will definitely get torn down. It’s not getting better without help.”

In addition to funds, the hardy band of volunteers can use more help. To volunteer, contact [email protected]

“In a couple of years it will hit the century mark and I’m hopeful that it will be here still,” Kinnear concluded. “It will be a shame that a century building like this would get torn down now.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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