Looking through some old copies of The Columbia News the other day, I ran upon an old story that I'd seen before.
It was no less incredible on seeing it again. The story was from 1956, when Columbia County School Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard made plans to build seven new schools.
In one year.
Columbia County's current school board is worrying, and rightly so, about building five new schools over the next six or seven years; just imagine what it took to convince voters 50 years ago to raise their taxes enough to build seven schools at the same time.
The total cost for those seven schools, plus additions to an existing school, was just $1.3 million, with $445,000 of that coming from local taxpayers. The five new schools the county wants to build between now and 2012 are expected to cost nearly $90 million (including additions to two other schools).
School Superintendent Tommy Price is suggesting a 1 mill tax increase to raise money for bonds to pay for those new schools. Then-Superintendent Blanchard convinced voters to repay bonds with a property tax increase; I can't find a reference to how big the increase was.
While the voters overwhelmingly approved the 1954 bond referendum, just one area of the community disapproved: Winfield voted 12-14 against the bonds.
In either era, it's obvious new schools are needed. In 1956, school officials were looking at a 10-year increase in school population from 2,117 in 1946 to 2,922 in 1956.
Price this past week gave a report on school population. It showed that 10 years ago the system had 16,737 students, compared to 20,578 this year - a smaller increase, percentage-wise, than that 10-year jump in 1956, but they're planning two fewer schools, too.
The population is expected to hit 23,704 by 2010, climbing upward in more ways than one: Board members, after hearing those projections, approved the concept of the county's first two-story school.
Actually, it seems a little odd that it would have taken us this long to build upward, which is more economical than flat construction. We've had two-story schools before; in fact, one of the schools replaced by that 1956 building boom was the two-story Gospel Water Branch School.
And here's how history repeats itself: The county's newest middle school, its first two-story school in 50 years, will be built on Blackstone Camp Road - the same road that runs past the modern Gospel Water Branch Baptist Church.
Date in dispute
History repeated itself, too, in Appling recently with the reopening of the renovated courthouse.
It's a wonderful mixture of old and new: Old architecture, coated with new paint and floored with recovered heart-pine boards in the courtroom upstairs.
The same old argument about when the place was built roiled under the opening day festivities, too; the county minted a bunch of medallions for the opening three years ago of the Justice Center in Evans, with the new courthouse on the front and the old on the back; the date stamped for the old courthouse is 1956.
That's the county's official number, and it's sticking to it. Problem is, it's probably not when the courthouse was built. Other dates have been tossed around - 1850, 1812 - but it appears a new building was at one time built on top of an older courthouse.
All I know for sure is that the old courthouse no longer smells old. Hopefully the new paint fumes will eventually evaporate, and the building will once more smell like history.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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