Just the Facts

Historic school for sale

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Dan Finnerty

Macon County Board of Commissioners met April 9 for their regular monthly meeting. On the agenda was a public hearing on the Pine Grove School property sale proposal. The hearing’s purpose was to receive input on whether the county should sell the historic school on approximately 1.26 acres, located at the junction of Peek’s Creek and Highlands roads.

The existing one-room Pine Grove School building was built in the early 20th century but closed in 1950, when Cullasaja School opened. The Pine Grove School building was used for various community purposes and a voting station, but it fell into disrepair and by 2000 was abandoned. Realizing the historic structure might be lost for good, the local community worked together to complete some much-needed repairs and, in 2006, i8t was reopened as a community building and polling station.

PINE GROVE School is situated on 1.26 acres at the junction of Peek’s Creek and Highlands roads. The school has served as a community center and a voting/polling station.

Seven individuals spoke about Pine Grove School during the public hearing. Alex Hawkins, talked about the most recent use of the old school building, which has been primarily for voting within the Sugarfork precinct in which it is located. Hawkins was not opposed to the sale of the property, but “would like to see the [purchasing] family keep memorials and past history information on site. And those who lost their lives in the 2004 flood slide (five people) deserve to be honored and their families acknowledged.”

Hawkins was referring to the Peek’s Creek flooding and mudslide of 2004 caused by heavy rains from Hurricane Ivan. 

A MEMORIAL at Pine Grove School marks the Peek’s Creek tragedy of 2004 in which five people lost their lives when Hurricane Ivan dumped heavy rains causing catastrophic flooding and mudslides.

Mary Ann Ingram commented that she has voted at the school since 1996 and expressed concern on where precinct voters – approximately 400 who are currently registered – can vote in the future. “If you have to sell it, I ask two things of you: That you put it on a historic registry so that it can never be torn down, destroyed, or changed. And it is made available to the county to [continue] to vote in.” 

Next, Marsha Holland spoke to commissioners. 

“We have four generations of native families represented tonight: the Hollands, Deals, Mashburns, Dills, Tilsons, Woods, and Crisps,” said Holland. “The historical significance of the Pine Grove School is incredibly meaningful to all of us. It’s my understanding that it is one of only 400 of its kind still standing nationwide.” 

Holland also recounted a substantial overhaul of the building that took place in 2006, including updating the building with bathrooms, adding a kitchen area, replacing the windows, and adding a handicap-accessible ramp. She reminded commissioners, “Of equal importance, a memorial was erected at the school to the lives that were lost during the Peek’s Creek disaster in 2004.” 

Holland offered that a group of individuals representing the families could serve as a “new community club” tasked with maintaining the building. She asked commissioners to not sell the property, in part because “we all know once it’s sold, it’s going to be lost forever for use by the community.”

Julie Tastinger reminisced about “history lessons” learned from grandparents. Remembering stories her grandfather relayed to her about his time at the school, she shared, “Through the old schoolhouse, seeds were planted for me because I went on to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and became a history teacher. I would like to ask you [commissioners] to preserve the old schoolhouse because I don’t think she’s done teaching history lessons to the kids of Macon County or to any of us.”

Chris Brouwer, after moving to the Pine Grove community area 24 years ago, said it became clear to him how important the building was to the community. According to Brouwer, his house has the closest and most direct view of the property. 

“I’ve been voting there 24 years … clearly it has historical significance to this community. I would encourage you, if possible, to try and maintain that building for how important it is to the community.”

After public comment, the commissioners discussed the selling of Pine Grove School. Commissioner Josh Young asked if the Pine Grove community could pull together a nonprofit, pool the funds necessary to put insurance on the building, preserve the building, and “make sure it is in safe hands.” His opinion was that because the county essentially assumed the property by default in 2021, he would like to “see it go back to the community to which it really belongs.” 

Commissioners offered to allow a community group led by Holland to research both nonprofit start-up procedures and those necessary for getting the property on the National Register of Historic Places. The board plans to revisit the sale status in May, or as late as June, if needed.

Franklin Clock Tower repair plan delivered

As a follow up to a clock tower restoration project presentation made by the Franklin Garden Club at the March 12 County Commissioner meeting, County Manager Derek Roland introduced Jack Morgan, project manager for the Macon County Clock Tower Project; Morgan addressed commissioners with a proposal for consideration and approval. 

The historic clock tower was saved from the original 1800s-built Macon County Courthouse when the new courthouse was built in the 1970s, and it was moved to its current location in the park at the corner of Main and Phillips streets in Franklin. The complete Clock Tower Project is proposed in three phases: Phase 1, Discovery and Documentation; Phase 2, Design and Production of Construction Documents (fee TBD); and, Phase 3, Bidding and Construction Administration (fee TBD).

The historic clock tower on the square in Franklin is the centerpiece of the downtown area and has fallen into a state of disrepair. The clock was once atop the original courthouse which was torn down in the ’70s. Phase 1of repairs will begin soon.

Morgan advised the board that while the tower is still structurally sound, some of the mortar and bricks are soft due to age. He also listed areas of exterior damage: wood needs replacing and roof sheeting, which is inside underneath shingles, is stained and needs fixing/replacing as well. 

Morgan relayed that Looper Architectural Design and Planning, based in Asheville, recommended an in-depth study be undertaken to assure comprehensive inspection and evaluation of the tower. The proposed cost of the study is $2,615. 

Commissioner John Shearl questioned the use of an architectural firm to “tell us what we already know – we know the clock tower needs some immediate attention; it needs new wood, it needs a new roof, it needs new paint … I don’t get why we don’t have builders in this community not step up to the plate to volunteer and use organizations instead of going through the tax base.” 

Morgan argued the need for construction administration. “[The area] is subject to pedestrian traffic. We want someone with good insurance working up there, if you don’t mind. We’d like to bid that and if a qualified contractor bids zero (cost), that would be fantastic.”

THE DISREPAIR of the town’s clock tower, a centerpiece of Main St., is apparent but scheduled to be repaired.

Chairman Gary Shields replied, “I committed to the Garden Club … we need to get this clock tower squared away.” 

Roland added, “At the last meeting, when this was discussed, safety issues were a real concern … with this being a heavily trafficked area in the center of town. When these repairs are made, we need to be sure, from a liability standpoint, that we’ve covered all our bases.”

Commissioner Paul Higdon said, “Considering the current state of the clock tower and its immediate surrounding area, we all talk about ‘representing Macon County.’ [The current condition of the tower] is not very representative of what I’d like to see Macon County look like. I would request a plan for the improvements of the [entire] town square.”

Following nearly two hours of discussion, Shearl motioned that Morgan prepare a list of needed repairs and continue forward with Phase 1 of the Clock Tower Project. The motion was seconded and unanimously approved.

To watch the April 9 Macon County Commissioners’ meeting in its entirety, visit: www.maconnc.org/roster.html? (look at April 9 and click video). All past meetings are listed on this site. The next meeting is May 14 at 6 p.m.