Article by Bob Castle. Photos by Patrice Johnson
The prior edition of the Stockbridge Community News reported that the old Middle School was sold to Mike Dalton for one dollar. But while taking a tour of the building and conversing with Dalton, it became apparent that this transaction was not so much about the sale of the complex as it was about putting the school in trust to a family of alumni who have the commitment and ability to renovate property, so it can continue to be of service to the community.
Technically, Leah and Mike Dalton’s newly founded L & M Family Investments purchased the property.
“We just couldn’t see the complex torn down,” Mike Dalton said, “and we saw that the buildings still had potential to help the community grow.” He and wife Leah were born and raised in the area and went to school here, he explained. Their four children attend Stockbridge Schools. Leah Dalton teaches kindergarten at Smith Elementary, and the couple also own Dalton and Zick Builders whose downtown Stockbridge office is slated to become the first new tenant to relocate to the building.
“We knew we were going to stay here.” Mike grinned. “We’re not going anywhere. We said let’s figure out a way. Let’s make it work, and so far we’ve had a lot of support. We’ve been just truly blessed with all the support.”
The Daltons plan to lease space at reasonable rates to businesses and organizations that provide services to the community. Current occupants include the Stockbridge Police Department, the Stockbridge Village offices, the Stockbridge Area Historical and Genealogical Society, and Outreach with its Tide Me Over program providing after-school meals to hundreds of local children each week.
Other possible tenant considerations include antique and novelty shops, a café, beauty salon and barbershop, and the Daltons would like to see a senior center locate there. All told, Mike Dalton indicated they have twenty-six rooms available for lease, sized 28 feet by 28 feet, and they already have agreements with eleven tenants. As far as a name goes, he said they are considering the Stockbridge Activity Center, SAC.
Since finalizing on their purchase in March, the Daltons have renovated the gymnasium, repainted many of the hallways and waxed the floors. They hope the gym will serve as an impetus for attracting visitors to the complex.
“With so much interest in youth sports, we plan to schedule events in the gym that will draw people to us,” Mike Dalton said. “People can then browse through the shops and perhaps even get a bite to eat at a café.”
On entering an oversized room that once functioned as the school study hall, Mike Dalton switched on the lights, and his ever-earnest demeanor lit up with enthusiasm. “Kids need a place to go after school where they can be in a safe environment,” he said and explained that, in cooperation with Crossroads Community Church, a youth center was in the making.
“This youth center is going to be the talk of town,” he said. “It’s going to impact a lot of kids’ lives.”
He pointed to two adjacent rooms, allocated for the in-process youth center, and said with a sweeping gesture, “Out of everything, if there’s one reason we purchased this building, it’s because of that right there.”
He spoke of new paint, new carpet, equipment and appointments that were sure to transform the scene into hubs for music, games, and social gatherings.
Dalton credited Jo Mayer, the recently retired director of Stockbridge Community Education, for helping turn the community vision into a distinct possibility. A tour of the re-commissioned old Williamston High School also helped, he said, because the one-man project provided a “great model” for how an obsolete educational building can be brought back to life to serve its community.
Concerns? Dalton nodded, and a shadow of concern crossed his face. “It’s an old building,” he said, and discussions centered on the antiquated boiler system.
The Daltons’ goals?
“This town doesn’t need to get big like Chelsea,” Mike insisted. “I just want it to support some businesses. We want kids to come in here. We’ve been on a steady decline for the last 10 or 11 years in Stockbridge, and we need something to bring people in.” He rattled off a list of families who have returned to the area. “Because it’s nice!” he exclaimed. “I like knowing everybody. We have a community here.”