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Preserving a legacy: Resident pitches idea for Polk House

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For decades, Greenwood residents flocked to the Polk Memorial Community House on Madison Avenue.

They boxed, swam and batted around volleyballs. They even practiced golf indoors.

Residents watched silent films, enjoyed community theater and checked out library books.

The 92-year-old building eventually became home to city government, where you go to pay a utility bill or give the Greenwood City Council a piece of your mind. But the city is moving into bigger, newer digs just down the street, and that’s raised a question about the future of the Polk Memorial Community House at 2 N. Madison Ave.

Greenwood plans to consider selling the building after most city government offices are moved into the Presnell Cos. tower at the southwest corner of Main Street and Madison Avenue. Attorney Sam Hodson, who’s handling the acquisition of the new city hall, said it wasn’t known how the building would be repurposed, but said it could be for condos or offices for private businesses.

A resident affiliated with the Restore Old Town Greenwood group presented an alternate idea: to restore the building as a community house. Travis Goff told the Greenwood City Council it should consider keeping the building, restoring it and turning it into a place where residents could gather.

“For decades, it served the civic good,” he said. “It’s not a government building that needs to be repurposed. It is a community house that should be preserved for Greenwood and Mr. (James T.) Polk’s legacy. I challenge you to dedicate this building as a community house.”

He said groups such as Restore Old Town Greenwood or the Southside Arts League potentially could meet or offer classes at a new community house.

The city council plans to consider later what to do with the property. Council member Thom Hord said its age might limit what can be done.

“Sometimes buildings just get old,” he said.

The building was built in 1920 with money donated by Polk, a canning company magnate who had run the largest cannery west of Maryland in Greenwood.

The community house included a library, gymnasium, a pool in the basement, and a 500-seat auditorium, where an amateur acting troupe called the Greenwood Community Players performed. Churches gathered in the community house, and many youth sports programs operated out of the gym.

But the building fell into neglect for years. The city spent $900,000 to renovate it in the mid-1980s, when it became the city hall.

Greenwood city government has since outgrown the space and leases office space on Emerson Avenue for the legal, planning and engineering departments. The building also has aged and has issues such as a leaky roof.

Renovating the building and making it more energy-efficient would cost an estimated $2.6 million, Hodson said.

Goff said the city should consider keeping the building and renovating it instead of transferring it to private hands.

“I would hate to see this building sold,” he said. “It would make me sick to see the city sell it. I understand it has $2 million worth of needs, but think the city should do the right thing even if it costs money.”

Goff said the issue was not historic preservation so much as preserving the original use of the building and ensuring that it continued to serve a civic function.

He said the building could be used by the community but didn’t know if it would necessarily need a playhouse or other features it used to have. He said a community house wouldn’t have to be a time capsule for the early 1900s but should be relevant to Greenwood’s current needs.

He said the city should do a needs assessment to determine how the building would best be used. One possibility would be to offer meeting space for community groups that now meet at the library, churches or private homes, he said.

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