1. GA-English

Lack of funds for renovation: Uncertain future for former American Club

Lack of funds for renovation : Uncertain future for former American Club

The former American Club is quickly falling into decline. But Bonn International School does not have sufficient funds to pay for the renovation work.

John F. Kennedy and Konrad Adenauer used to meet there, as did other politicians, diplomats, and journalists. On the one hand, it was a place for families to socialise, and on the other hand, history was often written in the rooms of the former American Club. The club was closed a few years after the government moved to Berlin. And it has remained closed to this day. None of the plans drawn up for the building in the past 20 years have ever been implemented, and now the former club is in a state of disrepair.

At the end of the 1990s, the municipal property company VEBOWAG took over the site and, along with the it, the ‘American Embassy Club’. However, their ideas - such as building apartments or medical offices – failed, due to the regulations and conditions concerning the protection of historic monuments, explains Board Member Michael Kleine-Hartlage. VEBOWAG stopped its efforts and in 2010 the area was handed over to the Bonn International School (BIS) under a ground leasehold.

The school planned to take action in 2013. The club was to be renovated and converted into an assembly hall with a cafeteria and kitchen. But nothing came of it. This project was also hampered by regulations concerning monument, fire and flood protection, explains BIS Director Patricia Baier. Moreover, the school did not have sufficient financial resources for the project - or at least not for that reason. The (more cost-effective) alternative was an extension.

We would still like to invest in the club, “but it is a question of money,” says Baier. Around half a million euros are incurred annually in rent for the entire school grounds - an “enormous financial burden for our non-profit parents' association”. A renovation of the club would far exceed the budget. She explains that this has been indicated several times to the city council in recent years.

In addition, the club was already in poor condition when it was taken over in 2010, after standing empty for ten years, says Sabine Schattenberg, head of administration. “It was a skate park and a meeting place for the homeless.” The school had fenced in the building and painted the outside. “We are aware that many people have an emotional attachment to the club,” says BIS spokesperson Natalie Niklas. Therefore they are trying hard to find solutions.

What might these solutions be? “We are open to others using the building,” says Baier. For example, the suggestion of a school rowing club, she explains. Another possibility: “We free the building and remove it from the leasehold." To steer things in the right direction, we “have been seeking dialogue with the city and VEBOWAG for some time”.

First and foremost, it is the task of BIS, as the ground leaseholder, “to use the American Club monument in such a way that ensures long-term preservation of the substance,” said Marc Hoffmann, deputy city spokesman, in response to a GA inquiry. The BIS would have to draw up a concept for use and have it examined to ascertain whether the measures could be implemented in terms of structural engineering and heritage conservation. According to Hoffmann, the Lower Authority for Monument Preservation is prepared “to continue the dialogue on the further handling of the building, which was started some time ago but then discontinued by the BIS”.

During political questioning, the FDP (Liberals) made an official demand asking how the club could be used in general. “The development plan stipulates a ‘special area’ (i.e. a school) here,” said the city. A boathouse for student rowing clubs would therefore be permitted. But for other non-school uses, such as a restaurant for excursions, the building could only be operated with an exemption from the development plan. According to the city, each application would have to be examined individually.

The Liberals also asked about the condition of the building. The city replied that during an inspection in 2018, it was discovered that the interior fixtures had been partially destroyed and that windowpanes were missing. This is due to “years of inadequate security against unauthorised entry”. According to the city, there was no evidence of massive mould or dry rot infestation. A pollutant test had not been carried out. However, in view of the age of the club, it is assumed “that products containing harmful substances were used” in the construction.

(Original text: Ayla Jacob, Translation: Caroline Kusch)