At the bottom of the new Wall of Honor at South Girard School in Phenix City will be the inscription “Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Future.”
Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara said that is what the changes taking place at the building on Fontaine Road are all about.
A celebration attended by about 150 people at the school Sunday afternoon saw the unveiling of a large brick wall in the school courtyard.
It features plaques honoring past principals and graduating classes in addition to one from the Alabama Historic Commission showing the school has been placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
Changes to the school building include a new front to the school and, soon, a newly paved driveway. Metal benches outside will be an addition.
Inside, walls have been painted and one wall inside the main entrance, about 50 feet long, will be feature memorabilia including photographs of past classes, some of which, were on display Sunday.
New bright lighting and flooring have been been installed.
A photograph of the first graduating class in 1946 that had just five students shows the motto, “We finish to begin.”
DiChiara said the cost of the entire project is approximately $700,000 and said it is worth it to honor the first high school for blacks in Phenix City.
It was the superintendent's idea to honor South Girard, and he received full support from the school board.
The high school was started in 1945 and had its last graduating class in 1970, when black students began attending Central High.
South Girard was originally on 11th Street and moved to the Fontaine Road location in 1963.
The building has also served as a junior high and is home to the school system’s eighth grade students.
All of the work was to be completed by the beginning of the school year but DiChiara said bad weather held up work by Pound Construction.
James Sellers is a 1963 graduate of the school and played a key role in getting the school put on the Historic Register. “It was a high school where there was true concern about the students,” Sellers said. “Teachers were like parents and weren’t afraid to spank your butt if you were not doing right.”
He told those in attendance that South Girard and other Phenix City schools need your support now more than ever. “
Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe echoed that thought and called the changes honoring South Girard as “significant for our city.”