‘We need history’: Warner Robins community rallies to keep Rumble Academy standing

Crowd rallies to keep Rumble Academy standing

jmink@macon.comJanuary 24, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Bill Douglas remembers walking the halls of the first Warner Robins High School.

Douglas moved to Warner Robins in 1948 -- three years after the school was built -- and he recalls driving the girls basketball team to practice, joking with Principal Bert Rumble and shoveling ashes from the heating stove as a punishment.

Now he is part of a group that aims to keep the school standing.

Douglas was one of about 60 people -- including a majority of the Houston County Board of Education -- who gathered Thursday at the Wellston Center to hear residents speak against the demolition of the original Warner Robins High School, which is now called Rumble Academy.

“It was the focal point” of the city, Douglas said about the first Warner Robins High School. Rumble Academy is the central part of the Rumble complex on South Davis Drive, and it is planned to be demolished as part of a school improvement project. The gymnasium will continue to stand, and the rear of the complex was renovated to house the new central registration office.

When they began learning about plans to tear down Rumble Academy, community members asked City Attorney Jim Elliott to do something about it. Elliott spearheaded a committee of about 15 people, which led to widespread support on Facebook and Thursday’s meeting.

The group argues the 68-year-old building is part of Warner Robins’ short history and needs to be preserved.

“We moved here in ’51, and Rumble was there,” said Barbara Waddle, a Warner Robins resident who attended the event, sporting a Save Rumble sticker. “I just hate to see a part of history torn down. We need history -- Warner Robins isn’t that old.”

The school board approved the project last year as part of the education special purpose local option sales tax, which was approved by voters. Rumble currently houses students from the alternative school, so the alternative school building can be removed to build a new elementary school. After that school is built, the alternative school will move to the old Pearl Stephens Elementary School, and the main part of Rumble will be demolished.

It was a “well thought-out plan by staff,” school board Chairman Tom Walmer said, and was not simply a move to demolish the Rumble Academy.

Walmer attended Thursday’s meeting to hear what the group had to say. The board would consider a proposal to salvage Rumble only if presented a workable, financially-sound plan for the building, he said.

“Is it set in stone? No,” he said about the demolition plan. “But, fiscally, you need to have a reason to keep a building.”

Some residents highlighted their own visions for the building. Elliott would like to see the building continue to be used as part of the public education system.

Billy Powell, of Fort Valley, suggested turning it into a museum and meeting space for community and school-related events, such as class reunions. He recommended using the building to house memorabilia from former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Warner Robins High School alumnus and former football player.

Powell, a local author, has written about the once-doomed former Perry High School. That building was planned to be demolished but, after similar protests, was renovated in 1996 and now houses the board of education.

“I hope you are successful in preserving the old Warner Robins High School,” he told the crowd. “It’s a beacon from the past that should never be extinguished.”

Most crowd members had personal connections to the old Warner Robins High School, and some, such as Wayne Lowe, attended the school in its early days. Lowe remembers where his classroom was. He remembers his teachers -- particularly one who asked her students to watch out for Principal Rumble while she met her boyfriend in the school parking lot. He vividly recalls Rumble, who would often joke with his students.

Students often wanted to skip class, and Rumble would tell them they could leave after five whippings with a board, Lowe said.

Lowe watched his friend get paddled three times, then he decided to just stay in class.

Douglas remembered Rumble called that paddle “his board of education,” he said. Douglas’ face lit up when he remembered those days -- even the punishments.

“It was kind of the glue that brought the community together because everybody was from somewhere else,” he said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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