A home-rehab agency in Macon has plans for a former school on Ridge Avenue.
The group, Rebuilding Macon, wants to turn the former Elam Alexander Academy into a community center as well as dormitory space for volunteers -- usually youth groups -- who come to the city to help paint and repair homes.
The agency has been working on plans for the site for a while, and now “it’s going faster than we expected,” said Debra Rollins, the group’s executive director.
Rebuilding Macon already has approached the Bibb County school system about the idea, and Rollins said it’s possible the proposal could go before the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission in November.
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She is scheduled to talk to county commissioners about the idea Tuesday morning. She said Rebuilding Macon leaders would like to meet with residents of the neighborhood by early October -- possibly Oct. 3 -- to discuss the proposal.
Plans call for a community center there, and the playground would be upgraded with features such as roll-away basketball goals. Outdoor events could be held on the grounds, and there’s an auditorium inside that can be used.
“We really want it to be the heart of the community again.”
The group needs to raise $100,000 to get rolling with the proposal, Rollins said. It will also take about $2,000 to complete the necessary paperwork for Planning & Zoning, because the property would need rezoning. Rollins will ask commissioners for help with that fee. Rebuilding Macon, formerly known as Christmas in April, plans to send out letters seeking donations, particularly to alumni of the school, which was once called Alexander IV.
Renovations would be costly. The school may need a new roof, and the kitchen would need replacing. The group wants to put in 40 showers -- for both females and males -- in the school’s rear wing for the workers, as well as bunk beds.
Thieves have already stripped copper gutters off the building since it closed this past school year.
So far, reaction from several neighbors is supportive.
Cal Powell, who lives near the school, said he didn’t know much about Rebuilding Macon, but that the plan “sounds like it could be something positive.”
After Elam Alexander Academy closed, residents in the neighborhood have wondered what would happen to the building.
“There was concern about what was going to end up there,” he said.
As for a planned meeting with residents next month, “I know the community would be glad to hear from them,” he said.
Stephen Adams also lives in the neighborhood and said he thinks the agency’s plans “would be a very positive move” for the former school.
“The neighborhood’s still looking to get together and see what’s the best use” for the building, he said. “As long as it’s a good thing for the neighborhood, I’ll get behind it and support it. ... Rebuilding Macon would be a positive move for the building. We want to make sure the property is maintained.”
Rollins said she’s heard that another group may be interested in the site as a charter school.
Rebuilding Macon draws lots of high school and college students from out of state throughout the year to help with home rehabilitation efforts. The agency helps low-income and elderly homeowners by tackling projects such as painting, roofing work, wheelchair ramps and other smaller construction projects.
This summer, about 2,000 students came to Macon, painting 120 homes and helping re-roof 15 homes.
“We’d aim to double that by 2013” if plans for the building take root, Rollins said.
It’s not unusual for a couple hundred students to come to Macon at one time during the summer to help. Sometimes they head on to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., after they’re through.
“We’re a great stopping point for them,” Rollins said.
For now, while they’re here, they usually sleep on church floors or in gymnasiums.
And they spend money. “They go to movies, to (Lake) Tobesofkee, to the Dairy Queen,” she said.
If 200-300 youths were using the dormitory space each week, especially during summer vacation, Rollins said, they could pay $10 apiece a night to stay there.
“It’s a major undertaking,” she said of the project. But “we’re committed to making this happen.”
Rebuilding Macon will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2012, and converting the old school would be a great way to mark that milestone, Rollins said.
“We see so much that can happen there.”
To contact writer Oby Brown, call 744-4396.