Richard Hyatt: A future not based on memories

March 15, 2014 

On the hillside in Southwest Atlanta where my high school stood for as long as I could remember, there was emptiness and like every other old grad I felt the thud of the wrecking ball deep in my gut. This is happening to vacant schoolhouses everywhere and back in Columbus I called the school system to find out how many abandoned campuses are for sale or facing demolition -- and the list was longer than expected.

More than a dozen sites are on the Muscogee County School District hit list, and though children learned to read and write and solve equations in those places, the decision on their future isn't based on memories or the past.

Myles Caggins is part of the process, and the former Army officer points out the expense of maintaining vacant buildings. As the district's Chief Operations and Facilities Officer, he is working through thorny legal issues and trying to make decisions that are beneficial to everyone.

Caggins grew up in Mississippi and lived all over the world, so you would assume he isn't emotionally attached to local schoolhouses, but that is not always the case. "My heart broke when we had to take down that old auditorium at Baker High. It had such beautiful acoustics and so much history. I just about cried," he said.

The county's longtime administration building is crumbling, but though it isn't considered a historic site, it is located in a historic district, which makes removal a challenge. Other facilities may still be saved, including Marshall, Daniel, Columbus Junior High and Morningside.

Claflin has become a city problem. Tillinghurst could be part of a land swap. Rose Hill is for sale. A neighborhood group is trying to save the former teen pregnancy center in Waverly Terrace, but vandals are threatening the venerable two-story Bibb Elementary. Rosemont and Beallwood may also become available.

Upkeep is a major problem but so is the crime that festers in abandoned schoolhouses. Some of these buildings have been vacant for years, and it is past time for the school district to sell them, donate them, find other uses or level them.

Tearing down old schools costs money and hits close to the heart. They're part of our childhood scrapbooks and when they go away it reminds us that we're also slowly fading.

It is a shame these buildings have to go, for they are monuments to a time and place when we didn't build disposable schools.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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