Annie Lytle clean-up progress done in fits and starts

Annie Lytle clean-up progress done in fits and starts
Public School No. 4 (Courtesy of the Wayne Wood Collection)

Annie Lytle – Public School No. 4, that is – will turn 100 years old in 2017, but the long-abandoned elementary school is getting a facelift from a dedicated crew of preservationists who have spent a decade cleaning it up.

For many years, a dozen or so volunteers have met almost every Saturday with shovels, wheelbarrows, saws, and paint to remove four decades’ worth of debris and graffiti inside and outside the two-story brick and concrete building. Tim Kinnear, founder of the Annie Lytle Preservation Group, wanted to save the building from demolition in 2000.

Two years ago, Kinnear began to see some light at the end of the tunnel. He had applied for the Annie Lytle Preservation Group to become a registered nonprofit so that it would be able to accept funds to rent equipment, such as a front-end loader to scoop up rotted floor boards, broken plaster and shattered windows, plus litter left behind by vandals and squatters.

Also in 2015, the group received a Historic Preservation Award from the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission for “10 years and hundreds of hours of work dedicated to the preservation, cleanup and securing of Annie Lytle, School #4.”

For the past two years, the work crew has made progress partially restoring some of the classrooms in order to show the former school building in a positive light for potential buyers. A classroom on the first floor in the east hallway was repainted, but missing pieces of flooring still need to be replaced. Upstairs several more rooms have been painted and three more are prepped for new paint.

According to group member Patsy Bryant, who is responsible for social media and volunteer scheduling, the clean-up activity has almost deterred further vandalism.

“We have had virtually no tagging on the outside of the building, only minor things inside,” she said. “We had the inside relatively secured until Hurricane Matthew, which blew some of the panels down,” referring to the plywood panels which cover broken windows.

She also attributes the lack of vandalism to several other things.

“Security at night has slowed things as has the dog park visitors watching. Also, when word got out that arrests were being made tended to deter as well,” said Bryant. “The other part of this also was that anything that was tagged, outside and in, was painted over within a day.” 

Bryant said the preservation group has had several people express an interest in buying the building, which is owned by a real estate company in Miami Beach, Florida. 

“When we give them the tour, we start downstairs, east hall first. They see the break room, another room and the cleared boys’ restroom, and the cafeteria. Those four rooms have been or are being worked on,” she explained. “We continue down the hall, which gets worse as we go. The west hall is a horror. Then we go up the back stairs and it is like a breath of fresh air. First three rooms are in progress. From there down the hall things are so improved it gives a totally different perspective. By starting with the worst we can give them an inkling how things could be.”

In May 2016, Bryant met with a local construction company, Jeff Thompson Construction, who had purchased the corner lot on Park and Rosselle next to Jimmy Johns. Bryant gave him a tour of the building and said at that time he had expressed interest in buying and gutting the building and using the front facade and the two sides.

Thompson indicated that, while interested, it would take years and a huge amount of obstacles to overcome. “We would want to preserve as much as possible,” he said in an August 2016 interview. “The neighborhood is turning around.”

Work events moving forward

Although the preservation group used to meet nearly every weekend, there was a stretch prior to September 2016 where no appreciable work was done.

“Quite a few of our volunteers had job changes or shift changes which prevented them from being with us,” said Bryant. “We also were attempting to get our Hold Harmless agreement updated, but several of us were working individually.”

She said the most dedicated of the inner group is founder Tim Kinnear, Ivy Buford, Lisa Marie France, Brett Nolan and, behind the scenes, Paul Bremer. Bryant also gives credit for jump-starting recent clean-up efforts to David Bullet, founder of Abandoned Florida, a website which documents abandoned, forgotten and lost places in Florida.

“We have changed the way work is being done. Instead of Saturday Work Days, we have turned to Work Events,” she said. “David had volunteered to put the word out to some of his group that we needed help and brought about our September Work Event. We had over 25 volunteers from all over the state, including Tampa and Miami.”

The most recent work event, in December, was hosted by TruHome Realty and real estate agent Ryan Miller of Gainesville, said Bryant. At that event, volunteers put up a Christmas tree and other holiday dec-
orations at the front entrance of Annie Lytle.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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