Love that old-school feeling

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Once upon a time, when I worked at The Star-News, part of my job was covering education, which meant I was in and out of the schools in this county.

I loved going in the older buildings because they had a wonderful “old school” feel to them. Maybe it was the polished wood floors and chalk dust. Or, it could be the energy created by the students and teachers who passed through those halls creating the memories contained in the walls.

A place does not get that feel quickly. It takes years and generations for that special something to exist so strongly that you know it when you walk through the door.

The two elementary schools in Andalusia had that something. These buildings had character. They were the keepers of the stories of school days spent there.

When I heard about the construction of a new elementary school, I was happy that it would offer so much in the way of improvements. I was also sad that the old buildings would no longer be home to part of the life and energy of this community.

Then, leaders stepped in to save East Three Notch and turn it into the most amazing city hall I’ve ever seen. The first time I walked in the building, it felt as alive as it did when the sounds of learning filled the air. All of the stories remained; only the function of the building was different.

That left Church Street, one of the schools that was always a favorite of mine. The uniqueness of it and the spirit of the people who studied and worked there made covering a story a pleasure. I wondered if it would go the way of some of the other old buildings in the county, falling into ruin or torn down to make room for something new.

Then along came some dreamers, people who saw what Church Street School could be, and one of them was Meryane Martin-Murphy.

First, the Adult Activity Center went up behind the school, utilizing some of the classrooms. That left the oldest part of the school, the building that looks down onto Church Street, the part that holds perhaps the dearest stories.

Now after hours of planning, fundraising and hard work, and thanks to a partnership between the City of Andalusia and the Andalusia Ballet, a dream has come to life. The proud old Church Street School is the new home of the Church Street Cultural Arts Centre and houses the Andalusia Ballet.

On Monday, I paid a visit to the new cultural arts center and found it filled with the voices of children. The halls echoed with conversations, giggles and footsteps headed to dance class.

In the midst of the activity was a smiling Meryane ushering a child to the children’s studio. The school was alive again, and I could almost hear the whispered stories of all its years moving in the air around us.

As I stood taking in the energy of the place, I thought about what this town has done in the past several years, how it rescued these two schools and created something truly amazing in the process. And about how the same thing will soon happen to one of the Alatex buildings when it becomes the home of the chamber of commerce.

Saving these landmarks says something about this city. It speaks about its heart and its appreciation for the people who built Andalusia, both the leaders who dreamed of its future and the hard working citizens who made the dream a reality.

Preserving these building says those who are here now value the stories and those who wrote them, and that they want to share them with the next generation.