Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oconee County Recreational Affairs Committee Considers Future of Central Schoolhouse

Heat and Light Needed

The Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs spent an hour tonight without heat, electricity, and, of course, plumbing at the Central Schoolhouse in Heritage Park discussing what to do with the building.

“You all brought this up as a potential agenda item at our October meeting,” County Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry told the Committee. “I suggested no better place to start our discussions than actually at the facility.”

Members of the committee used flashlights to look around before considering the building’s future.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners approved a concept plan for the Heritage Park History Village at its Dec. 7 meeting, with the schoolhouse as the centerpiece. But it did not address questions about the uses to be made of the buildings.

The two-story schoolhouse contains a stage and theater seats on the second floor as well as one large classroom with smaller rooms on the first.

The Committee meeting was held in the larger classroom, illuminated by gas lanterns.

Gentry said the major issue the Committee needs to resolve is the uses to be made of the schoolhouse once the historical village is built out around it.

“Is it more museum oriented, where it is more static display?” Gentry asked. “Come to visit, walk through and leave. Or is it an active facility?”

The Committee didn’t resolve that question, preferring instead to come back to it at a future meeting. What it did do was review a list of renovation requirements for the building.

These include a structural review, a review of the electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning requirements, painting and repair of the inside, and exterior renovation, including provisions for handicap access.

Even before the Committee turned its attention to the schoolhouse, it confronted another major issue before it.

The county is being offered a mule barn. As Gentry said, that is not part of the concept plan for the History Village.

Committee Chairman Mike Streetman said such barns were common in the county and could be considered an appropriate part of the village.

The issue is how to finance movement of the building and others to Heritage Park and then how to finance their upkeep.

Central Schoolhouse was moved to Heritage Park in the very southern part of the county from Colham Ferry Road in 2004, Gentry said. Much of the next year was spent building a foundation, putting on a new roof, replacing the windows, and doing minimal preservation to the exterior.

Gentry said that work was completed in 2005, and the building has sat largely untouched from then until now. It is open to the public only sporadically, making tonight’s meeting a rare opportunity to see the insides of the nearly 100-year-old structure.

The question is how to find funds to move forward with the renovation and with the further development of the village itself, he said.

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