Warner Robins group protests demolition of Rumble building

jmink@macon.comDecember 1, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- At a small, brick building near Warner Robins High School, a handful of students chat next to bare flagpoles. Near the entrance, blue paw prints are visible, and a few bleachers sit empty in a back field.

This wasn’t always the case at Rumble Academy, which now houses Houston County Crossroads, the district’s alternative school. Decades ago, it was buzzing with students, ball games and school pride as the first building to house Warner Robins High School. Now school officials plan to demolish the aged building as part of a school improvement project. The project was approved last year as part of the education special purpose local option sales tax.

But if a group of community members has its way, Rumble Academy will continue to stand. A movement dubbed “Save Rumble” is protesting the demolition. A committee of about 15 residents has generated support from several community members, who believe Rumble Academy is part of the city’s short history and should be spared.

“We don’t have much history here,” said Jim Elliott, a Warner Robins resident who is leading the Save Rumble movement. “What little bit we have, we’re interested in preserving it.”

Rumble Academy was built in 1945 and is one of the oldest buildings in the school district. It has served many roles from a junior high school to an academy for Warner Robins High ninth-graders. As part of the E-SPLOST project, those ninth graders were moved into Warner Robins High at the beginning of this school year. Students from the county’s alternative school transferred to Rumble, so the C.B. Watson building -- which previously housed the alternative school -- can be removed to make room for a new elementary school. The new school and a renovated Linwood Elementary School will house students from Linwood and Pearl Stephens elementary schools. Then, the alternative school, currently in Rumble, will move to the old Pearl Stephens school, leaving Rumble empty.

Rumble is planned to be demolished in summer 2014 for various reasons. First, because it’s an older building, the operating costs are high, said Jason Daniel, district facilities director.

Also, the school board decided the land would best be used as additional space for Warner Robins High athletics and recreational activities, he said. Tennis courts and possibly an extra field for practices is planned for that space.

“Warner Robins High is landlocked,” he said. “They don’t have the land to expand their extracurricular needs.”

Neal Rumble said he trusts the school board’s decision to demolish the building named for his father, Bert Rumble, who was the first principal of Warner Robins High.

Neal Rumble, who lives in Donalsonville, never lived in Houston County, but said he has fond memories of Warner Robins and Rumble Academy. He remembers when Rumble Academy was dedicated.

“It was a very, very wonderful day for my dad, a very emotional day,” he said. “People by the ... hundreds, I guess, came to the school to be with him.”

Bert Rumble had a deep love for the Warner Robins community and Houston County schools, and Neal Rumble only asks for his father’s portrait that now hangs in Rumble Academy -- if officials do not find another place to hang it within the school system, he said.

“I have every confidence that the school board will do what’s best for the schools and for Warner Robins,” he said.

But some community members argue that tearing down the building would not be in the city’s best interest. Some residents approached Elliott after the project was approved, asking him to organize a group to oppose the demolition. A rally is planned for Jan. 24, and supporters have suggested making bumper stickers and T-shirts. A Facebook group titled “Save Rumble” was created Tuesday, and two days later it had 150 members. By Friday, that number was nearly 200.

“There really is a lot of passion,” Elliott said.

Elliott said he understands such an old building costs a lot to operate, but his group believes the historic value is worth it. The committee would like the academy to continue to be used as part of the school system, and some have suggested turning it into a sports or recreation center.

Brian Russ, a Bonaire resident and Warner Robins High alumnus, said he envisions the building as a high school sports hall of fame. Most of his family attended Warner Robins High, and he became interested in Rumble Academy when researching the history of the school. He joined the Save Rumble movement to help preserve some of that history, he said.

“Our education system is very strong, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” Russ said. “But our history is something to be proud of as well.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this article.

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