Cowee group fights to keep school community-owned

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

For more than 60 years, students have been learning at Cowee Elementary School. But with the rise in Macon County’s student population, county leaders are looking to build a new school to accommodate the county’s sudden influx of pupils.

The county is currently in the process of finding alternative funding to build two new schools. One school will serve students in kindergarten to fourth grade and the second school will serve students in fifth and sixth grades.

Once these new facilities are built, students will be transferred to the new site, which may lead to the closing of this historic elementary school’s doors.

But a small group of Cowee community members are working diligently to make sure that this does not happen.

“We don’t want it to be sold,” said Bob Apsey, co-founder of the Cowee School Preservation Committee. Committee members are encouraging county commissioners to keep the school and lease it to the community for a minimal fee.

Earlier this year, a group of local residents formed the preservation committee to save this art deco inspired stone schoolhouse. The school is an important part of the community’s history. In 1943, the Works Progress Administration built the nine-room elementary school.

The school, located off of N.C. 28 in north Macon, was the third elementary school built in the Cowee community. One burned to the ground and the second is still standing and is known to locals as the Snow Hill Inn.


The plan

Preservation members hope to turn the school into a community center for area residents. Those who live in Cowee are slightly isolated from town amenities because Franklin is 12 miles away.

Turning the school into a community center could make it a hub for area residents. The school is already on the national historical registry.

The school is currently a polling place during elections. It could also be used by Boy and Girl Scout groups, 4-H clubs, and by community members for family reunions and other social events. The center could also be an alternative site for a police department and a spot for a community library.

Additionally, the school could be a stop along the way for tourists traveling to Sheffield Mines, which is a popular tourist destination.

“Every time we’ve had an event here it’s been very successful,” said Teresa Bouchonnet, a committee member.

The school also meets the requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act. All of the restroom and entrances to the school are handicap accessible and the school provides adequate parking for large groups of people.

Community members are looking to the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville as a model for their efforts. The Stecoah center is managed by a nonprofit group and is now utilized by community members and offers 20 different programs a year such as music and painting lessons.

But the plans to turn the school into a community center are on hold until the county builds a new school. Voters rejected the $42.1 million school bond referendum which would have allowed the county to take out a low-interest loan to build two new schools, one of which would have replaced Cowee.

Right now committee members just want to ensure that the school is not sold or torn down.

“It might take 10 years or three years for it to become a center,” Apsey said. “We just want to stop it from being sold.”

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