MACC Proponents Donate Time, Elbow Grease Helping Preserve Signal’s Historic Grammar School

More Volunteer Workdays Planned, MACC Board Members Say

Sunday, March 4, 2018 - by Judy Frank
- photo by Jackie Benkert
It was all hands on deck Saturday when dozens of proponents of Signal’s Mountain Arts Community Center turned out in force to help with the conglomeration of chores that must be completed if the 92-year-old building that MACC calls home is to be preserved.

All told, MACC board member Cheryl Graham said, 38 people spent hours painting, cleaning, decluttering, landscaping and doing other much-needed jobs at the former Signal Mountain Grammar School .

In addition, she said, many people who had to be somewhere else on Saturday nevertheless helped with the rehabilitation effort by donating paint and painting supplies, ladders, drop cloths and other supplies – not to mention Ace Hardware gift cards – needed by rehabbers.

More donations are needed, she noted. For example, a sump pump would be a major help in preventing water from seeping into the building.

Mrs. Graham said additional volunteer work days will be held during coming weeks.

The effort comes as town council members debate how and by whom – and, in some cases, whether – the historic school building should be preserved at all.

Built in 1926 of native rock harvested from the south side of Signal Mountain during construction of a new road, the old grammar school was the first building in the community intended for public use.

Originally designed as a meeting place for community groups as well as a school – Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church’s congregation, for example, met there before constructing their own chapel in 1928 – the school is shaped like a V and features an impressive triple-arch stone entrance. The arms of the V form classroom-lined hallways which lead to a 240-seat auditorium.

Operated as a school for 73 years, the building began its current role as an arts center in 1999 after a citizens group persuaded then-council members to rent the empty building for a nominal fee.

Two years later, largely due to the efforts of original MACC director Karen Shropshire, the former school became the only building in Signal Mountain to be listed on the National Historic Register.

Town officials learned in 2016 that preserving the building wouldn’t be cheap. That’s when Dave Hammel of Raines Brothers Inc. reported that about $5.9 million would be needed to completely renovate and restore the property.

However, Mr. Hammel noted during a joint meeting of the council and MACC’s then-board of directors, more than $3 million of that money would have no impact at all on the 90-year-old portion of the building. Instead, it would be used to prop up a series of additions tacked on over the years to accommodate increasing numbers of students.

“This amount is way more than I would ever consider spending on a project like this,” then-Councilman Chris Howley noted at the time on his face book page.
“I understand the historical significance of the building and that it has sentimental value to many of our residents who went to school there,” he continued. “It is currently the oldest building in the town’s possession. There is an option to preserve the front/oldest part of the building and make it into a visitor center which can house some of the MACC services for $1.1 MM . . . I am still undecided on this but will be studying it further.”

The only town councilman to attend the cleanup was Dan Landrum, who is married to MACC board president Angie Landrum.

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