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School facilities reflect years of county history

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  The current issue facing the Henry County Board of Education regarding Smith-Barnes Elementary and Patrick Henry Academy illustrates a kind of diversity in the school system that some parents and local citizens may not be aware of.

Stockbridge Elementary is one of several campuses built in the 1950s that are still in use.                     Photo by Monroe Roark

  Eight school buildings built in 1954 are still in use, according to a list the Times obtained from the school system. One of those is Smith-Barnes, which has been recommended for closure so that Patrick Henry can be relocated there from its current site on the old Stockbridge High campus, which was built in 1964 and needs millions of dollars in renovations. The school board is expected to vote on the move next week.

  Due to the explosive growth Henry County has seen in the past two decades, the school system now has 36 buildings that have been built or renovated in the past 15 years. For example, Eagle’s Landing High opened in 1990 as the county’s third public high school while Hampton High will be the tenth when it opens this fall.

  The seven elementary schools built in 1954 – Fairview, Hampton, Locust Grove, McDonough, Ola, Smith-Barnes and Stockbridge – served all of the county’s elementary students until Cotton Indian Elementary opened in 1990. Since then the county has seen 21 new elementary schools built.

  The other new building opened in 1954 was Henry County Training School, which at the time was an all-grades school for black students. It is part of what is now Henry County Middle School.

  “Since Henry County Schools’ enrollment went from 18,717 students at the end of the 1997-98 school year to 40,791 at the end of the 2010-11 school year, the district has had to build at a rapid pace to keep up with expansion,” said spokesperson J.D. Hardin. “With enrollment figures increasing at manageable numbers in recent years, we can now provide a greater focus on necessary updates and renovations.”

  Hardin went on to point out that the eight buildings constructed in the 1950s “have obviously been updated over the years to modernize and meet present needs.”

  Tommy Smith was starting third grade when the new Hampton school was opened, and it was a modern marvel compared to his previous school building, a brick structure with four rooms. Even so, he said the new facility never had air conditioning while he was there, and classrooms were heated individually.

  It was the same at the new McDonough school, whose students previously attended classes in the building that now houses the school system’s administrative offices. Built in 1938, it was home for students in grades 1-12 before the expansion.

  Bob Willard remembers transferring to the new school for third grade and feeling some disappointment at not being able to continue at “the big school,” although it was still the site of Henry County High School when he, Smith and others their age got there.

  Tony Moye rode a bus all the way from what is now the Eagle’s Landing community, after attending first grade in a four-room school in Flippen. He said the new McDonough school was the biggest building he had ever seen and was “state-of-the-art and city-fied.”

  During the 1950s there were no junior high or middle schools, and these new campuses were first through eighth grade. Willard recalled that in grades 7-8 the various basketball teams practiced outdoors, although McDonough at least had an asphalt playing surface, some of the schools’ teams practiced on dirt.

  There were only two gymnasiums available for these schools’ games at that time: the one at the high school and another one in Hampton.

  These schools opened the same year as the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared segregation unconstitutional, but Henry County schools were not integrated for more than a decade after that.

  The main reason for the construction boom was the work of then-Gov. Herman Talmadge, according to county historian Gene Morris. Talmadge was a Henry County resident at the time, and Morris said he made huge strides in the construction of new school buildings locally as well as other improvements such as his “farm to market” road program.

  Talmadge noted in his memoir that the education improvements were a high priority for him, with hundreds of school buildings in disrepair around the state. More than 1,000 one-room schools were eliminated in Georgia during his time in office, and Talmadge wrote that all of them were gone soon after.

  Morris, who graduated from Henry County High in 1978, also noted the vast difference between the facilities available for today’s students and what was once the norm.

  “I never went to an air-conditioned school until high school,” he said. “Of course, we always started school after Labor Day. August would have been brutal.”

  The combination of old and new creates unique challenges for the current school board.

  While the SPLOST for the school system has traditionally been earmarked mostly for new school construction, a great deal of the funds under the current SPLOST will be spent on improving and upgrading current facilities.

  Upcoming projects at various schools will include technology improvements, painting, roofing, lighting, security cameras, parking lots, media upgrades and flooring.

  Moye said he believes the school system has done a good job keeping up the older facilities he grew up with, and they have stood the test of time.

  “I wonder if the schools we’ve built in the past 20 years will last as long,” he said.

 

 

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