GUTHRIE — Demolition is one fate that could await a Guthrie building believed to be the site of the first African-American library in the state.
The 4,078-square-foot Excelsior Building at 323 S Second St. is now leased by the Guthrie Community Arts Committee.
The city owns the building, and City Manager Sereniah Breland said it will have to be auctioned, renovated or torn down. She said the building is worth probably $24,000, and to renovate it likely would cost $100,000.
“I just don’t think the council will want to do that,” she said.
Some Guthrie residents say the heritage of the site demands it be restored.
“Tearing it down would be a big mistake,” said Donna Hilton, who has taught reading in the building and thinks the site is very significant.
Evelyn Nephew, a proponent of saving the building, has produced a paper outlining the chronology of the Excelsior. She said the original Guthrie Carnegie library around the turn of the 20th century was “closed to people of color.”
By 1908, organizers had set their sights on a location, eventually called the Excelsior Library and Industrial Institute. It was built for $5,000. During the time of segregation, it was also near black schools. By the 1950s, the original two-story wood structure was torn down for a brick Excelsior building. By 1967, the Excelsior and Carnegie libraries consolidated and ended the “separate but equal” library system in Guthrie.
From there, the building served functions including community center, city hall and even home for the police department until 1998. That’s when an agreement was reached with the Community Arts Committee, which teaches classes such as pottery.
In recent years, age and weather have taken a toll.
A hailstorm years ago left the building needing roof work. Gallons of water are removed from the building after a moderate rainstorm, Breland said.
A pipe has broken, and the building no longer has water. She also isn’t sure one of the walls of the building is sturdy and thinks it could fall, posing a danger to someone inside.
It’s her belief the building probably isn’t fit to be inhabited.
A meeting to discuss the issue was held recently at Guthrie’s First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, Nephew said. She said the NAACP thinks the building is worth saving. She said the city should live up to its commitment to the Excelsior and renovate it.
Breland said such a financial commitment would drain resources from other city agencies needing help.
Nephew said city council members have heard some of the outcry from the community and won’t make an immediate decision. At the next council meeting, a 90-day evaluation of the situation likely will be ordered, she said.
Breland expects the Parks Board to review the matter at its Thursday meeting.