The former Crosby High School building on Church Street in Belfast has been vacant for several years, and, like many people, we have often wondered what was going on.

The tall grass out front during the summer made the place look shabby and didn’t seem to bode well for a return of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped. It also seemed fairly benign, considering the organization’s history with the building. NTWH had, after all, breathed new life into the old school just over a decade ago, appearing — heaven sent, or so it would seem — to give the school, recently made obsolete by the construction of the new Troy Howard Middle School, a brief, celebrated revival as a creative venue for people with disabilities. The organization had reportedly dropped a bundle on upgrades to the old building, including the construction of two theaters inside and the conversion of the upper floor to dormitories for visiting performers. Not surprisingly, the organization also made the pre-Americans with Disabilities Act building readily handicapped-accessible. Many of the performances at the venue were exceptional. Steve Croft even came to Belfast to film a piece for “60 Minutes” about NTWH. Then it disappeared.

In a strange turn, during the last two and a half years, the New York-based organization neglected to pay the property’s sewer bill, sending the property into foreclosure over a $700 outstanding bill. This happened automatically in July, and went unnoticed at the time. But last week the City Council made the forward-thinking decision to seize the opportunity to stage what amounted to an intervention on behalf of a beloved, historically significant, prominently located building.

To some this may have looked opportunistic. Around the same time the foreclosure was going through, a city-commissioned engineering report was under way on the NTWH building to see if it could be converted to a performing arts or civic center. The Council had distanced itself from the civic center idea, but in light of the engineering study, an onlooker could be forgiven for questioning the aggressive pursuit of the title to the old Crosby School.  It was good intrigue, but the reality was more complex.

According to the engineering study, the building needs $1.5 million in repairs. Some of the proposed upgrades, like the replacement of energy-wasting single-pane windows, could potentially be overlooked in the short term, but others, like the interior water damage, inadequate ventilation and resulting mold problem, will likely need immediate attention.

By threatening legal action, the city stands a good chance of stopping the decay of the building. What happens to the building in the long term remains to be seen, but we applaud the city for using its leverage for the good of an important piece of Belfast’s architectural and social history. The old Crosby School is not only a nostalgic touchstone, it has loads of potential for reuse somewhere down the line. We would be thrilled if NTWH came back into the picture, but we agree with city officials who have expressed the importance of good stewardship above all.

If only the owners of the former Stinson Property hadn’t paid their sewer bill.