- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

WHITESBURG, Ky. (AP) - For more than 20 years, a group of citizens in Jenkins has been trying to save the old school building located downtown.

“We sunk our teeth into it and we would not let go until something good happened,” said Jim Polly, chairman of the Old Jenkins School Committee.

In 1992, people began to notice the declining state of the vacant building. The roof was leaking. Windows were out.

Rosemary Shook, a former educator, moved back to Jenkins from Florida around that time with her husband John Shook, a former Jenkins Independent Schools superintendent. Mrs. Shook cried when she saw the condition of the school.

“To see it deteriorate hurt her,” said Polly.

Community members who wanted to keep the school building from being demolished formed the Old Jenkins School Committee. Members include D. Charles Dixon, Ked Sanders, Rosemary Shook, Betty Hunsaker, Peggy Greer, Paul Thomas Greer, Jimmy Polly and Pelma Dixon. The committee raised more than $30,000 trying to save the building.

After some major cleaning, Polly said thousands of people toured the building.

“That showed the love people had for this building,” said Polly.

The county government bought the old high school in the late 1970s and spent $1.6 million on the building in coal severance tax funding from June 29, 2000 to July 31, 2008.

Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward said he called Lexington-based AU Associates after learning the company had completed a similar preservation project in Jackson County. Ward wanted AU Associates to transform one of the old schools owned by the county into affordable housing. Jenkins, Kingdom Come and Campbell’s Branch schools were considered for renovations. AU Associates entered into a 50- year lease agreement in February 2013 with Letcher Fiscal Court to preserve and use the old Jenkins School, located on Pane Street.

“Look at how much they have preserved this building,” said Ward. “They have done an excellent job. We were able to take this building and make it a successful building for the City of Jenkins and the county. I’m just amazed at how well all of this has turned out.”

Costs associated with the renovation were projected to reach $3.1 million, according to Johan Graham, director of development for AU Associates.

Kentucky Housing Corporation allocated more than $400,000 in tax credits to help AU Associates obtain equity needed to provide affordable housing, said Andrew Hawes, managing director-multifamily programs with Kentucky Housing Corporation.

AU Associates also received $ 302,000 in subsidy for home resources.

“We’re very happy to allocate these resources to projects like this that will have a lasting impact to residents of a community,” said Hawes.

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