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Renovating the Harrington School for city offices would be an economical alternative to razing the historic building and building new office space on the site, according to a recent city-commissioned study.

Smith Balle Hyatt Architects found no conditions in the 92-year-old structure that would be impossible or difficult to overcome should it be remodeled. The Bountiful-based firm estimates it would cost $1.7 million to turn to the old school into offices and an auditorium for public meetings. American Fork paid $4,500 for the brief feasibility study.The city's only problem is that it doesn't own the Harrington School or the adjacent former Alpine School District administration building. Local pediatrician Carl T. Bell bought the buildings in January. He intends to turn them into a cultural arts center and restaurant called Harrington Square. Some preliminary work on the building has begun.

But Bell is somewhat handcuffed by pending litigation. American Fork officials filed an eminent domain complaint against Bell in 4th District Court in an attempt to seize the buildings. Oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 13.

The city contemplated demolishing the building prior to Bell buying it.

The architectural survey team concluded that the building's real value to the community is in the "preservation of this important landmark for future generations." The two-story brick and limestone Victorian Romanesque structure is purported to be the birthplace of free public education in Utah. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Regardless of what the school is ultimately used for, much of the renovation work listed in the study would be necessary, according to the study. It includes removing asbestos and lead, meeting Americans with Disabilities Act and Uniform Building Code requirements and structural and mechanical upgrades.

Kim A. Hyatt, who prepared the study, said that estimating renovation costs is difficult. Remodeling and historic preservation projects typically reveal many unforeseen conditions after reconstruction has started. Also, Utah's current building boom has produced a volatile bidding climate, making construction costs hard to predict.

Bell's own cost estimates early this year for transforming the school into a cultural arts center were similar to those reached by Smith Balle Hyatt. Bell figured he'd have to raise about $1.5 million through his nonprofit Harrington School Foundation. He said he'd already arranged for a third of that in donated labor and materials He also has commitments from local artists to display their works and talents in the center.

Bell said he plans to phase in the renovation over several years using profits from his proposed Harrington Gardens restaurant.