NEWLAND — The Avery CARES building, which, throughout its many uses over its lifetime has been a staple of the community for many decades, has been assessed as in disrepair and must be torn down.
Located at 636 Cranberry Street in Newland, the stone structure was built in 1944 by the Works Progress Administration. The WPA was a program started by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression to improve employment and infrastructure. Since then, it has been a hub for many different activities and groups in Avery County.
Early in its history, the building was home to the library, said Faye Lacey, former Avery County Commissioner. Maggie Hughes of Elk Park was the first librarian at the facility.
Once the library moved, the building became something of a community center, primarily housing the Women’s Garden Club, Lacey said. Soon after, somewhere around the late 1960s to early 1970s, the building became the center for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. For 30 years, the building was a haven to those in recovery, and it became a place of importance for their families as well, Lacey said.
“It broke my heart when it closed down,” she said. “There’s so many good memories associated with that building.”
When it was used for AA, the Avery Cares building was always open, Lacey said. Individuals who had struggled with alcoholism in the past were actively involved in running the program alongside mental health workers. For AA to work, you have to have someone who has faced the same struggles as the members who lead the program, she said. Her husband, Judge Bob Lacey, was instrumental in the operation of the building and the program.
There would be nights when people would stay at the building with newer members to help them maintain their sobriety, she said. They would shoot pool and play cards, and they always threw birthday parties for their fellow members at the building.
“So many people found their sobriety through that building,” she said. “I can’t say enough nice things about it and the success of the AA program.”
For a few months in 2017 and 2018, Yellow Mountain Enterprises used the Avery CARES building for the Treasure Box Thrift Shop until its permanent facility was ready to move into. Daymark used the building to host a support group on Saturdays for a period of time, but the building hasn’t been used for any meetings since 2019, County Manager Phillip Barrier said.
Now, however, the building is not in as good a condition. When Lacey was on the board of commissioners, the possibility of renovating the building had been brought up, but it would have cost at least $100,000, Barrier said. A handful of years later, after the building has been assessed multiple times, it’s been deemed irreparable. The floors have buckled, the fireplace is crumbling despite the county’s previous efforts to seal it, the heat system has failed, the rock is cracking in some places and there’s a significant mold problem.
The county doesn’t want to see the Avery CARES building be razed, but as it’s beyond repair, Barrier shared that salvaging the building is no longer an option.
“It’s not that we want to just go in and take this building down,” he said. “The building has served its purpose, and we hate to see it go. We really do.”
The county is taking precautions before taking the building down, such as having it inspected and assessed to ensure it’s done the safest way possible due to the mold. Once the building comes down, a new building for the probation and parole office will be built in its place. Barrier said he wants to keep some of the rocks from the exterior to make flower beds for the new facility as a way to honor the Avery CARES building.
“It’s just been part of the community,” he said. “It’s served the people well. This new probation building will serve the people, too.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the correct identification of the first county librarian.
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