Closed for good in 1994, the Olive Hill, Kentucky High School was on the brink of demolition when a 22″ snowfall caused the gymnasium roof to collapse. The interior had been stripped of its former glory, and it seemed as if it was deeded over to neglect and vandalism. Thankfully, a former mayor of the city purchased the building and then proceeded to deed it over to a historical society. The gymnasium has been rebuilt and the property is being slowly renovated.
Constructed in 1929 (1), the Olive Hill, Kentucky High School rests atop a hill overlooking downtown. The three-story brick structure, once a focal point of the small eastern Kentucky town, could be accessed by its 103 stone steps that were constructed by the local chapter of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s (1). The high school closed in the 1970s when a new facility was constructed on the outskirts of town and the building was repurposed into an elementary school.
In 1990, the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed that provided school districts with increased funding (2). Many districts, full from an influx of cash, opted to abandoned their old facilities in favor of newer, bigger buildings on larger pieces of land in more rural settings. As a result, the Olive Hill elementary school constructed a new structure and moved to the outskirts of the city in 1994 (2), abandoning the historic property in the downtown. Unfortunately, much of the school was stripped of its interior finish, light fixtures, fuse boxes, and toilets in order to save money on the construction of the new facility (1); it had also received very little to no maintenance prior to the school’s closure. In December 1998 (1), the former high school was purchased by Jim Short, the mayor of Olive Hill for $10,000 on his personal Visa Gold credit card (2). The mayor, in turn, sold the building to the Olive Hill Historical Society for $11,000 (2), which covered his personal expenses and interest payments.
The current plan is to reuse the former school as a community center, museum, senior citizen wellness center and as a community theater. The project has proven to be quite difficult, since the building had been unmaintained for a number of years (1). Repairs to the building include window repair or replacement, electrical work, HVAC installation, upgrades to the plumbing system, and interior repairs. The cost of the project, estimated to be $1.4 million, was stimulated with $400,000 that was raised through fund-raisers and federal funding (2).
- “Kentucky’s Historic Schools Initiative.” Olive Hill High School. KYHeritage Council, May 5, 2003. May 30, 2007 Article.
- Poynter, Chris. “Lessons in redevelopment; former schools given new life in Kentucky.” Courier-Journal (Louisville), Dec. 16, 2002. May 30, 2007.