The Houghton School has moved a couple steps closer to once again being filled with the sounds of children's voices, a milestone that would return the facility to its original mission and rejuvenate the Olde Town neighborhood.
Heritage Academy, a small Christian school with a focus on low-income children, announced Tuesday that the purchase of the facility is official. Director of Development Helen Morgan also announced that $1.7 million already has been donated to renovate the facility and allow it to hold classes in August. That includes $250,000 from the Boardman family, $500,000 from The Knox Foundation and $500,000 from the Morris Communications Foundation.
Gazing around the vacant, cavernous room with its bare floors and exposed walls, the young schoolchildren declared it was "awesome" and "wonderful."
Maegan McCraney, 8, is confident the old school will be "beautiful."
"I know it's going to be beautiful, but it's not done yet," she said.
Her classmate, Craig Watts, 8, agreed, calling the facility "awesome."
Currently, the school is housed at the old Curtis Baptist High School on Broad Street near Lake Olmstead. Heritage Academy began in 2001 with 10 pupils and has grown to 80 and added grades. When it moves to the old Houghton School, it will be the first time it has owned its facilities.
The move has been made possible through donations to the "Continuing the Heritage" capital campaign and 8,000 volunteer hours.
That shows that people "get it," that they understand the importance of investing in children, said Earnest Smith, a 12-year resident of Olde Town and vice president of its neighborhood association.
"You can't have a community without children," he said.
Heritage Academy Executive Director Linda Tucciarone said the education of children is something everyone can support, noting that Augusta has played a "significant" role in education with Ware High School, the first black public high school in the South after reconstruction, and schools such as the Academy of Richmond County and Tubman Junior High, an all-girls school.
"I want our children to have the feeling they are stepping into the flow of history," she said.
Mr. Smith welcomed Heritage Academy to his neighborhood, seeing it as a springboard for the community.
"With the building that is going on all around this and with the economic development that is happening in Augusta, we can probably see this region as being one of the jewels of Augusta," he said.
The Houghton School opened in 1853 and was built to educate low-income children in a time before public schools. It burned during the fire of 1916 and was moved to its current location at 333 Greene St., until it closed in 2000.
School, city and neighborhood officials said they are excited about the school's reopening.
"It's not just talk that a new day is coming," Dr. Tucciarone said. "It has started. It is here."
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or email@example.com.
WAYS TO GIVE
Heritage Academy will continue to need gifts of time and money if it is to hold class in the old Houghton School in August. To donate or volunteer, call Heritage Academy at (706) 733-2980. The school is also looking to preserve memories of Houghton and is asking anyone with memorabilia to contact the school as well.