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Warner Robins school building with long history slated for demolition

WARNER ROBINS -- Built in 1945, the Rumble building has gone by many names -- Warner Robins High, Warner Robins Junior High, Rumble Junior High, Bert Rumble Middle and now, Rumble Academy of Warner Robins High School.

It is one of the oldest buildings in the Houston County school system, and more than 65 years later, it is now part of a school improvement plan, which through a series of student moves and construction efforts will end with the Rumble building being demolished.

The building is named for Bert Rumble, the first principal of Warner Robins High School.

“When he came (to Warner Robins), it was 1944, and the war was winding down,” Rumble’s eldest son, Neal, said.

“He came in the summer, and at that time people were optimistic that we were going to win the war. ... There were even talks of shutting the base down.”

Neal Rumble, now 85, never attended Houston County schools because he was headed to college when his father began working in the district.

Working in education like his father, Rumble later ran the adult education programs at the former Houston Vocational Center, now Middle Georgia Technical College, and said he has always had an affinity for the area.

“It was a good time for my family,” said Rumble, who lives in Donalsonville. “It was always quite an honor to ride by on Davis (Drive) and see my father’s name on that building because he loved that school district. I’d hate to see it gone, but I understand that the needs of schools change.”

Moving next door

The school improvement plan is part of an education sales tax renewal approved by voters earlier this month. The 1 percent education special purpose local option sales tax will take effect in April and last five years -- or until the $125 million cap is reached. It focuses largely on technology upgrades, but it also includes construction and renovation plans throughout the district.

The multistep school improvement plan involves building a new elementary school and shifting the alternative school to a more complete campus, but it uses a number of buildings over the next three years to complete the moves.

It includes removing the C.B. Watson building that now houses the alternative school Crossroads Center and moving those students to Rumble Academy.

A new elementary school would be built on the Crossroads property, which will house the students from Linwood Elementary, allowing the existing Linwood building to be renovated. Those two buildings -- the new school on the Crossroads property and the renovated Linwood Elementary -- will house the students from Pearl Stephens and Linwood elementary schools. They will be divided with prekindergarten to second-grade students at the new school and third through fifth grades at the Linwood campus.

Once that move is complete, the alternative school students will be moved to the building that now holds Pearl Stephens Elementary.

The Rumble building will be demolished, with the exception of the gym, and tennis courts will be built in its place.

The nine-step process is scheduled to begin in August with the district moving ninth-grade students from Rumble Academy to the main Warner Robins High School.

Transitional space

Rumble Academy of Warner Robins High School opened during the 2005-06 school year as a learning environment for first-time ninth-grade students at the school.

“Going to ninth grade is a challenging time for everybody -- parents, students, everybody,” said Brett Wallace, a Warner Robins High School assistant principal and Rumble Academy building administrator. “Rumble allows that transitional space.”

Located just across Demon Valley Drive from the main Warner Robins High building, “(Rumble Academy) is designed as a small learning community to improve the success of students as they transition to high school,” according to the school’s website.

“Research shows that students in such small learning communities have better attendance records, fewer discipline problems and more academic success.”

School officials touted these and other factors as benefits and goals of the ninth-grade academy when it was created.

Six years later, administrators say data doesn’t show any specific increase or decline in graduation rates since the implementation of the academy.

In 2005, Warner Robins High’s graduation rate was just above 84 percent. It has fluctuated over the years, peaking at more than 88 percent in 2008 and leveling off at about 85 percent in 2011.

“I don’t know that you can directly attribute any of that to being in a separate building, but I don’t believe it’s a detriment,” Wallace said.

There are pros and cons to having the ninth-graders take most of their courses at Rumble Academy, Wallace said.

Some classes, such as drama, chorus and band, are only offered at the main building.

While they can focus in a more intimate setting, they are also isolated for much of the school day.

“The ninth-grade students are just among themselves” at Rumble, Wallace said. “They don’t get to see more mature behavior that may have been modeled for them if they were around students two or three grades higher. ... There’s no reason that we can’t all be at one campus. It will just take a little planning and a little work.”

Restructuring

District officials are still working through the details of how exactly the move will be structured.

School and district officials will get together to assess bus schedules, classroom assignments and how they can keep aspects of the ninth-grade transitional environment intact.

About 500 students were enrolled at Rumble Academy at the beginning of the school year, but Anthony Lunceford, Houston County schools’ executive director for secondary education, said moving those students to the main Warner Robins High building shouldn’t create issues with overcrowding.

The main Warner Robins High School building can hold more than 1,900 students, Lunceford said.

The school -- including Rumble Academy -- now has about 1,700 students, more than 200 below its capacity.

There are more than 100 classrooms in the main Warner Robins building, and 88 are being used.

Warner Robins High School has an average of about 19 students per class, but class sizes can range from physical education and elective courses with more than 30 students to Advanced Placement classes with about 16 students and special education classes with eight, Lunceford said. Rumble has about an 18-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

“We’ll have a good idea of how things are going to go come Christmas,” Lunceford said.

“Then we’ll start tweaking it when we come back to school in January. It will be a working plan in progress as we begin the transition.”

A piece of history

Neal Rumble said Houston school administrators hadn’t contacted him about plans to demolish the building named after his father.

The last time he spoke with district officials was years ago, when he heard rumors that the building was being torn down.

“There’s a portrait of my father in the school, and I asked if I could have it,” he said. “At that time, I was told there were no plans to abandon the building, so it was certainly all right for them to keep the portrait.”

Now that plans are in place to demolish most of the Rumble structure, he has the same request.

“If the Board of Education didn’t want to keep the portrait, I’d like to have that,” Rumble said.

To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 256-9751.

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