Group aims to preserve unused historic schools

Chris Thelen/Staff
The old John S. Davidson School is considered "architecturally and structurally" significant. Historic Augusta officials want to keep it and other school properties like it from being destroyed.

Where a historic school once was nestled along the banks of the Augusta Canal, there is now little more than a vacant lot with a "for sale" sign.

The property had been the Lawton B. Evans School before the Richmond County school board sold it and the building was leveled.

"It was a beautiful and elegant building, designed by Willis Irvin," Historic Augusta Inc. Executive Director Erick Montgomery said.

He and other Historic Augusta members are concerned that other schools could soon meet the same fate.

The school board meets next week and could designate some of its schools as surplus property for sale.

Historic Augusta wants to offer its services so four schools under consideration are preserved in a manner that continues to benefit the community, similar to others that have been saved, said Tennent Houston, the organization's president.

He said the old John S. Davidson School, A.C. Griggs School, Martha Lester School and the old Sue Reynolds School are considered particularly "architecturally and culturally" significant because they were built with materials and craftsmanship not available today and contribute to the community's ambiance.

"We would love to provide our services to the school board to get the maximum value for the properties and to preserve their historic significance," Mr. Houston said.

With Historic Augusta's help, the Houghton School became a school again and the William Robinson School will be converted into condominiums.

The old Davidson, close to downtown hospitals, is "tailor-made" for residences, Mr. Houston suggested.

Frank Dolan, the chairman of the school board's finance committee, said he supports selling surplus properties.

"You've got to dispose of these properties like you would a gin rummy hand," he said. "You've got to get rid of the bad cards and keep the good cards."

But the board needs to make sure it won't need the property later, Mr. Dolan added.

The school board and the city could benefit when properties are sold if they fit into plans for redevelopment, he said.

Mr. Houston said he is encouraged by the progress being made downtown and the efforts to preserve old buildings.

It's a great time to "catch this wonderful wave," he said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

SOLD PROPERTIES

Richmond County has disposed of many properties through the years -- some preserved, some not. Here's the fate of some of them.

CENTRAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL: Turned into a bank and now used for storage by First Presbyterian Church

FLEMING SCHOOL: Now houses Alleluia School

HECKLE STREET ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES: General contractor offices

HOUGHTON SCHOOL: Now houses Heritage Academy

LAWTON B. EVANS SCHOOL: Torn down

PERRIN SCHOOL: Torn down

SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL: Torn down

WILLIAM ROBINSON SCHOOL: Being developed into condos

WOODLAWN SCHOOL: Torn down

Sources: Historic Augusta Inc. and Richmond County Board of Education