JEROME – Early in April 2004, Mayor Jay Kinsella proudly held up a certificate of occupancy for a news photo. The certificate represented a tight deadline.
It was for Jerome’s Civic Center. But before the town could move into its new Civic Center, it had to complete a major renovation of the Old Clark Street School. And the March 31 deadline was for the town to obtain a certificate of occupancy in order to receive a Community Development Block Grant.
The day before the deadline, there was still a lot to do.
“There was a ton of things to do,” said Kinsella. “We had to make the deadline or we would have lost the grant.”
So Kinsella and then councilmember Greg Driver started to work with only hours left to complete a checklist of things to finish.
They finished at 7 a.m. The building inspector came at 9 a.m. and issued the certificate. At 11 a.m. the representatives from CDBG inspected the building and approved the grant.
“It felt like sliding into home plate,” Kinsella said.
Former Jerome Mayor and Town Clerk Al Palmieri also remembers those days during the initial renovation of the old school into a new civic center.
“I think we started in 1996,” Palmieri said. “We were able to move into the building in 2003.”
At that time, the main project was to open the library, town hall and council chambers in the old school. But the deadline work involved everything from cleaning windows, washing floors, sweeping, cleaning out debris, mudding, taping, sanding to establishing public restrooms and ensuring the facility was handicapped accessible.
A few days after receiving the certificate of occupancy, the Town Council held a special meeting it its new chambers. The only agenda item was to announce that the new chambers were now open. It was more of an open house than an official council meeting. The short meeting was followed with a guided tour of the renovated school building.
According to historical records, including Sanborn Maps in the library, the Clark Street School was a wooden grade school in 1898. It was still showing as a wooden school building in the 1910 and 1917 maps. But the school burned down in 1924. Then somewhere between 1924 and 1938 the maps show the school had been rebuilt as a concrete structure.
The Clark Street School was closed in 1953 after the Clarkdale and Jerome school districts consolidated. For a time following its closure, the building was used as a restaurant, discotheque and retail shops.
Through all of the renovation work, the building has remained authentic.
The building now is home to the town’s Humane Society on the sub-floor. The first floor has three rental spaces, all rented, with the income dedicated to the library. The second floor holds the library, town hall and council chambers.
During the original renovation project, the town planned for a lot of renovation on the third floor. That was going to include, among other things, a community room and rental units for businesses such as art studios.
But money ran out, and those third floor projects have been gathering dust for several years. That is until recently.
Town Clerk Rosemarie Shemaitis was appointed as the town Properties Manager about a year ago. About the same time, the town received some financial help.
“The reason this all got started was we got this $20,000 grant from Freeport-McMoRan,” Shemaitis said. “Al Palmieri had applied for it.”
She said there is enough of the grant money left to do the bathrooms on the third floor. They will start with a unisex bathroom and then eventually add a separate men’s room.
So far, the third floor renovation has provided an Old Book Room, a rental space, court offices and space for the court clerk and a judge’s chambers. All of that is along one side of the hallway.
All along the other side of the hall remain more projects on the wish list waiting for more grant money some time in the future. When the money comes available, the third floor will have a new courtroom and a community room.
“I want to put in a sink, small refrigerator and microwave,” Shemaitis said of her plans for the community room.
The community room is especially important to Shemaitis. “This building is for the community,” she said. “It’s not just for town government.”
She envisions the community room as a convenient and comfortable place for people to come to interact.
Shemaitis gives a summary of how much of the work got done on the third floor. The Old Book Room was a project of Librarian Kathleen Jarvis and volunteers Kate Roberge and Tara Mullins. The court offices were done with volunteer help from Jay Kinsella, Rusty Blair and Shemaitis, along with community service people.
Before anyone could move to the third floor, the stairwells had to be brought up to code.
“Jay Kinsella, Eric Roberts and I reinstalled the old handrails in both stairwells,” Shemaitis said. One of the stairwells that had been used so long ago by kindergarten kids had to have the handrails raised a few inches to meet new codes.
Both stairwells are now up to code.
A lot of money and volunteer work has gone into this last round of renovation projects. Shemaitis says they still have a long way to go.
Plus there is other work the building needs.
“The roof needs to be done,” Shemaitis said. “The windows need to be done.”
Floors need repairing and windows need replacing or repairing.
She got a quote just for the library windows. “Those windows will be a little over $2,000,” she said. “And that’s just to repair them, not to replace them.”
The renovation of the Old Clark Street School into Jerome’s Civic Center is a job in progress. No doubt, it will take more years and a lot of money before the project can be declared as complete. But not seeing the end of a project has never kept the folks in Jerome from starting one, or from keeping at it, even when there are periods of years between stages of the project.
The volunteer attitude of Jerome might best be summed up by Shemaitis herself. “You have to start if you want to get anything accomplished.”
And that’s what they do in Jerome; they start important projects long before they ever know where all of the money, or labor, will come from.
Like many dozens of volunteers in Jerome, Shemaitis explains why it was important to continue with the renovation of the Civic Center.
“I feel a huge sense of pride and accomplishment,” she said. “It’s beneficial to the community.”