PERRY -- When it comes to preserving the original Warner Robins High School, some school board members are on board, while others have concerns.
Houston County board members discussed the future of the Rumble Academy on Saturday during their retreat, more than two weeks after community members rallied to halt demolition of the 68-year-old building. The academy on South Davis Drive is scheduled to be torn down as part of a school improvement project.
Board Member Dave McMahan brought up the topic, saying it’s no secret that he wants the building to remain standing.
“I want to save it because it’s history,” he said. “Right now, we might not see an immediate need, but there were a lot of things we didn’t have a need for that 10, 15 years later we said, ‘We’re glad we didn’t tear it down.’”
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The main question, McMahan said, is whether the board wants to save it. He suggested pushing the August 2014 demolition date to give board members and the community more time to find a use for the building.
But other board members voiced concerns. They questioned saving a building that does not have a clear purpose, as well as the costs of refurbishing and maintaining such an old building and whether it is actually a historic edifice.
“Being an old building doesn’t necessarily make it a historic building in my mind,” Board Chairman Tom Walmer said, adding it seems that the building mainly has sentimental rather than historic value. Additionally, unlike other schools that have been preserved, Rumble’s architecture does not distinguish it as a former school building, he said.
While McMahan argued that the board should preserve the building rather than spend the budgeted $1.1 million to demolish it, Walmer questioned whether it would be more expensive to renovate and operate the building.
Vice Chairwoman Marianne Melnick said that ideally she would like to save Rumble, but there are so many questions that need to be answered, and the board must make a responsible decision, she said. She mentioned the possibility of the community generating funds or grants to operate the building, but, otherwise how would it be funded? And how would it be used, she asked.
Several community members have mentioned turning the building into a museum, board member Skip Dawkins said.
“But we’re not in the museum business, folks,” he said, adding there is no demand for the type of museum that has been suggested. “Ultimately, if we don’t find a need for it, we need to give it up.”
Other board members said they supported moving the demolition date to give people more time to develop a solution.
“I’m certainly not pushing to meet this date of an August 2014 demolition,” board member Fred Wilson said. “I’m willing to do what we can to maintain history.”
The demolition is one project that is part of the education special purpose local option sales tax. School officials provided project updates Saturday, including plans to beef up schools’ security.
School safety has become a popular national topic after the Connecticut elementary school shooting in December. Houston County plans to add security vestibules in many of its schools, forcing visitors to go through the office before entering the school. They are adding security cameras, continually updating and practicing safety drills and looking into performing safety audits.
“We want to make sure every child in every school, and every teacher and everybody else, is safe,” board member Fred Wilson said. “We want to make sure it’s as secure as possible.”
The district has eight student resource officers on guard. Each high school has its own officer, and middle and elementary schools share student resource officers with the high schools. Officers are on call to respond to middle and elementary schools, “and we’ve not had any issues where we have had a need for an SRO, and we haven’t had one there,” said Linda Horne, assistant superintendent for school operations.
Some board members questioned whether it would be beneficial to have more security guards at the schools, particularly in all high school parking lots.
But, the biggest E-SPLOST project centers around technology, with $26 million budgeted for technology upgrades. This year, officials have upgraded routers, e-mail servers and wireless connections, adding wireless access points in several schools. Workers have installed 800 new smart boards in classrooms and more are on the way, among other improvements, Horne said.
And the district is “getting closer” to using electronic textbooks, she said.
After all, the small amount of state money allocated for textbooks might soon disappear.
A state study recommends legislators cut textbook funds and redirect that money toward technology for schools. Schools get $27 per student in textbook funding, according to a report by Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent for finance and business operations.
Gifted and talented
During the retreat, school officials also discussed changes to its gifted and talented program. Instead of attending gifted classes once a week, beginning next school year gifted elementary students will attend regular advanced classes everyday. Officials are working on how to better identify students as being gifted, and additional teachers are being trained to teach gifted classes, said Cindy Flesher, executive director of elementary operations.
School officials also discussed the new Edge Academy, which will give high school students a place to catch up on missed credits and graduate. Officials are looking to house those students in four classrooms in part of the Elberta Center.
Students will take classes in lab settings and block schedules. Once they catch up on their class credits, they will return to their home high schools, said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
“Our goal is to get kids in the position where they don’t give up or drop out,” he said.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.