Thorsby school added to historic register

Published 10:16 pm Friday, July 31, 2009

The old Thorsby Elementary School has officially found a place in history. The school building is now listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.

The designation will create more opportunities for the town to restore and preserve the structure, which was completed in 1925. While the title does not protect the building, it does open the window for certain grants.

A vision to turn the old school into a community center — a project now two years in the making — is slowly coming together for the members of a historic preservation committee.

The estimated cost of renovating both the 10,000-square foot building and grounds is between $1.3 and $1.5 million.

“This was sort of a last stand to save something historic,” said committee member Glenn Littleton, noting that other historic structures in Thorsby, such as the train depot, have been torn down.

The school’s history is unique because it was built by the town using an official school plan. The construction was funded by an increase in ad valorem taxes.

In 1974, the school closed and various community groups have used the facility since. These have included Girls Scouts, Chilton Civic Chorale, Royal Ambassadors, senior citizens, and Alcoholics Anonymous — who meet in the building to this day.

“The AAs are the reason the building’s standing now,” Littleton said. “They have patched the roof, done maintenance and provided materials.”

Despite those efforts, the building has taken some punishment due to vandalism and other causes. It was used as a haunted house during the 1980s. This is the reason some rooms are painted black. Also, new windows that were installed two years ago are mostly broken.

But as committee members walk through the rooms, they see the original wood floors and walls are still salvageable.

They see the building as it could be — restored back to its original beauty.

“The only thing that’s really going to change is the bathrooms. They are going to be used as mechanical rooms, and they will add new restrooms,” committee member Nancy Huett said.

While nothing is set in stone just yet, other ideas include relocating the town’s library and museum to the old school.

The library is currently located in the back of Town Hall, and the museum is in a back room of nearby Helen Jenkins Chapel.

A historic marker will eventually be placed on the building’s grounds, but that will likely come after the renovation.

The town received a $5,000 grant from CAWACO for an architectural master plan, and they are pursuing other grants.

“Thorsby has always put a high priority on community and education, and the committee feels that having this community center would continue the founding fathers’ ideas of what they wanted for the town,” Huett said.