Hudson celebrates renovated ex-school's milestone
When Hudson Mayor Bill Beane and other town leaders decided to purchase an old school building and create what would become the Hudson Uptown Building, the idea wasn’t met with great enthusiasm by the citizenry.
A decade after the building was dedicated, the HUB has become just that — the hub of the community and a source of pride for the town.
In the beginning, though, everyone involved in the project thought they had something that could be special, even if the town’s residents didn’t necessarily agree. The visionaries had vision, but they didn’t quite know which direction to take.
“Janet Winkler, Ann Smith and I were on a trip to Washington, and we were just talking about it, wondering what could we do with it if we had it,” said Town Manager Rebecca Bentley. “We didn’t know what we could do. One of the ideas was to just get it, paint the walls and see if we could get the library in Hudson to come down here. During that conversation, the idea came up: What could we do in this room that hasn’t been done anywhere else in Caldwell County? At that time, we didn’t know about the termites.”
INFESTATION AND RENEWAL
The one thing no one knew was that the building was completely overrun by termites.
Bentley said a termite contractor wanted to take the contract on the building, but he wanted to see it first. Thirty minutes later, he said he didn’t want any part of the job.
“He said, 'That building’s eat up with termites,' ” Bentley said. “I said, 'It can’t be; that building’s been under contract for years. We had it inspected.' He said it was eaten up with termites. I told Bill, and Bill and I crawled under the building that afternoon, and we opened the door and looked in. You could see termite mounds up to the floor. (The auditorium) was just gone. At that point, we just wanted to cry. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Beane said the termite nests were massive, easily reaching heights of about 10 feet inside the walls.
“They were having school in here,” he said. The auditorium was the school library, so there were literally tons of books on a floor that was extremely brittle. “We had this floor torn out, and you could see all the way to the ground,” about two stories.
“I think we priced tearing it down to start with,” Beane said. “It would have cost more to tear it down than it would to redo it, and that’s the truth.” He added that the walls are about a foot thick. The building was the first school in Caldwell County to be built with firewalls, Bentley said, because schools on that site had burned to the ground twice before.
Ultimately, the decision was made to start tearing the bad stuff out and begin the process of refurbishing the structure that was built in 1949.
Fortunately, there was a bit of cash on hand after the town sold the water and sewer system to the City of Lenoir, so the project didn’t break the bank. The floor in what is now the auditorium was torn out, leaving only the steel supporting beams in place. The floor was replaced, the ceiling raised in the basement — or what was the school lunch room — and the balcony replaced. In all, the total cost for the work was approximately $350,000. Beane took on the task of designing the new interior space by sketching out his ideas on note pads. There were no blueprints, just the mayor’s sketches. He oversaw the work of two contractors, who got lots of help from inmates from the county jail. Before long, the building was as good as new, complete with balcony seating bought on the auction website eBay. At that point, they had to decide what to do with it.
“We thought we could do theater on the stage, but we thought, ‘Well, we have theater in Caldwell County. That’s not new,’ “ Bentley said. “One thing we didn’t have was dinner theater, so we thought we could have dinner theater. That spawned in Ann Smith’s head. She got Jimmy Hemphill and Keith Smith together, and we met at Pastime’s one day and decided maybe we could do dinner theater. If you know Jimmy Hemphill, he takes on challenges that are insurmountable. That’s his thing. He decided, ‘Oh yeah, we can do that.’ "
A COMMUNITY TREASURE
On Jan. 12, 2003, the Hudson Uptown Building was dedicated. In the time that’s passed since the dedication, the building has gone from what the public thought was a bad idea to one of the hallmarks of Beane’s tenure as mayor and the town’s crown jewel.
Town Commissioner Bill Warren said the HUB stays booked throughout the year with events ranging from the popular and successful dinner theaters to weddings and concerts. Doc Watson has appeared at the HUB and packed the house. HUB Manager Janice Woodie said the facility is booked approximately 100 times a year — an average of about two events a week. Bentley estimates that the HUB has been rented nearly 1,000 times in the last 10 years.
“It obviously was something the community wanted and the community utilizes,” she said. “Nobody liked the idea of putting taxpayer money into this building, but it has been my objective since we opened this building for it to pay for itself. As of this year, it pays for its own operating expenses. We’ll never get back that $350,000 that we invested in it, but the community has a wonderful building that it can rent for a very reasonable amount of money so they can have glorious events in.”
The HUB stays so busy that the town has trouble booking its own building when it needs the space. Woodie said there are people who will book a year in advance just to make sure they have a date locked in. She also said that she’s had former students of the school come in, see what’s been done and decide they want to have their wedding in the HUB. She said it always amazes her to see what people can do with that room with a little creativity and imagination, especially knowing where things were when the town took over the building.
“We’ve come a long way,” Woodie said.