The first will be last, as the Bible says, and so it was with Central High.
The public high school with the longest pedigree in Macon dedicated its new facility Sunday, culminating a spate of new school construction by the Bibb County school system.
The new Southwest High and the new Howard High had their dedication ceremonies in the last two months. Now it was Central’s turn.
The $33 million building opened in August on Napier Avenue, next door to the site of the former Central, which was built in 1968. That school was built on the ashes of Lanier High, built in 1924. The history of the school goes all the way back to 1871, when the newly-established Bibb County Board of Education created the city’s first high school and called it “the Central High School.”
About 400 people, including former Central principals, retired teachers and local officials, attended Sunday’s ceremony, held in the school’s 600-seat auditorium. The program was preceded by a ribbon cutting outdoors, music by the Central orchestra and band in the auditorium lobby and a slide show of school photos stretching back nearly a century.
Many of the speakers touched on the value of having modern school facilities. “Without a good public school system, we won’t be able to attract new residents, we won’t be able to attract new industry,” said Mayor Robert Reichert. “There is no more tangible evidence of how a community supports public education than the facilities they occupy,” he said.
Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington said, “This school must be and will be the centerpiece of a renaissance for this neighborhood.”
Ellington also urged people to vote on Tuesday for an extension of the sales tax that made the construction of the school possible. He offered to call people Tuesday morning to remind them to vote and to give them a ride to the polls.
After the ceremony, Central senior Will Greene said the new school was a big improvement over the old, which was infamous for its bunker-like design.
“It’s a lot more open and there’s a lot more space,” Greene said. “The old school felt like a prison because it was claustrophobic and it had no windows. ... It’s really amazing what a difference it makes to have this natural light.”
Bob Flowers, the capital program administrator for Bibb Schools, said light played a big part in the design of the school. The classrooms have ceilings that slope down from the windows, reflecting more light into the rooms and cutting energy costs. The classrooms also have ceiling-mounted projectors, “high-performance” carpet and motion-detecting light switches.
“We wanted to have something modern, but we also wanted to commemorate what was here before,” he said. Flowers pointed out the school’s two-story brick facade, which took design cues from the 1924 Lanier High building. Instead of having a massive stairway at the entrance like the earlier building, the new Central impresses with a spacious foyer that has a 35-foot ceiling and stretches the length of the building.
Near the entrance of the school is a rectangular monument built with black terrazzo slabs from the demolished 1968 Central building. The monument holds bronze plaques from earlier Central and Lanier buildings.
Near the monument is a low, curving wall built with sand-colored bricks from recently demolished shop and ROTC buildings that dated from the 1920s. The wall is modern interpretation of a school institution from the old Lanier High days.
“It was a straight wall that separated the property from a lot next door,” said Gene Dunwody Sr., a 1951 Lanier graduate as well as an architect who helped design the new building.
“It was just known as ‘the Wall,’ and if you wanted to meet someone after school, you’d say, ‘Meet me at the Wall.’”