Staff File Photo by Kelly Jackson From left, Chatsworth Fire Department Engineer Eric Thurman and Capt. Joey Torres work Wednesday afternoon to suppress any remaining "hot spots" at the site of the Saturday fire that destroyed Murray County's historic school buidling, built in 1934.
Murray County officials are weighing the future of the old Murray County High School structure known as the "Old Rock Building."
All that remains of the building that burned Sept. 26 is a skeletal stone facade erected in 1934.
County schools Superintendent Vickie Reed said officials are deciding between a $600,000 insurance payoff to demolish the remains of the school and clean up the site or a payoff of $1.6 million to rebuild the old school as near to the original as possible. Both estimates include abatement of asbestos in the building.
"I know the building means a lot to a lot of local people, so we had engineers come in to look at whether the walls can be saved," Ms. Reed said. "They all said 'Yes.'"
Stone left over from 1930s work on the Chatsworth-Ellijay Highway on Fort Mountain was used in the earliest of the school's buildings, according to Murray County Museum online archives and historical records.
Initially, the one-story structure held eight classrooms, a library, an office and a partial basement housing rooms for agriculture and science classes. A football field was added in 1950, records show.
That's the year Murray County High alumnus Jim Etheridge says he graduated.
"It was a big part of my life," Mr. Etheridge said Tuesday, reflecting on the loss.
Schools were different then, he said.
"It was not like it is today. You did what you were told or else," he said. He said the school was staffed by "old" people who kept strict discipline in the classroom.
"There was one car on the campus when I went to school there," said Mr. Etheridge, 77. "It was a student. I don't how the teachers got there. It was the only vehicle I remember."
Mr. Etheridge's wife, Virginia, revised that account, and he chuckled.
"She's sitting here correcting me. She says the teachers had cars, but I honestly don't remember," he said.
The destruction of the school was a great loss, and he hopes it finds a new life, Mr. Etheridge said.
A rebuilt structure could house special classrooms or office space for school staff as once had been planned, he said.
Ms. Reed said donors in the community contributed money over the last few years that helped pay for a new roof last year. She said officials want to pursue the replacement idea if possible, but asbestos abatement planned this month must happen first.
ABOUT MURRAY COUNTY HIGH
* Established: 1934
* Students in 1934: 300
* Teachers in 1934: 13
* 1935: Home economics building, cannery and electric lights added
* 1935: First graduation held May 18. Thirty-eight of 60 seniors starting 1934-35 school year awarded diplomas
* 1936: Agricultural building added
* 2004: Placed on the National Register of Historic Places
* 2005: Renovations begin for future school offices
* Sept. 26, 2009: Fire guts old school
Source: Murray County Museum online archives and history
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...