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Angling for floor space in the old Cowee school

From the Macon County Fire Department to a persistent group of contra dancers, a long list of groups is vying for the chance to use the old Cowee school once it is vacated by students in two years.

Stacy Guffey, who is helping to coordinate the effort, more than welcomes the interest.  

“I’ve been encouraging folks who haven’t been in the valley long, and folks who’ve been here for generations [to participate],” said Guffey, a consultant with The Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. “I think they all need to be at the table.”

The Cowee School was built in the 1940s and is still used as an elementary school today. It’s a fairly large school built out of local stone, which lends it a beautiful historic look, Guffey said.

Students from both Iotla and Cowee schools are currently crowded into the elementary school as they wait to move to the new consolidated North Macon elementary school by 2012.

Macon County commissioners have committed to take the building over from the school system and reserve it for community use. What that use entails is the question of the hour.

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The many county departments interested in claiming space include the economic development commission, the sheriff’s department, the library, the recreation department and emergency medical services.

Incorporating county offices at the Cowee School simply makes financial sense, according to Guffey.

“It helps keep the lights on and keep the yard mowed,” Guffey said.

Other groups officially interested include Southwestern Community College, the Chamber of Commerce, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and a plethora of community groups.

Some are itching to hold basketweaving and other heritage classes there, while others want to display quilts. Still others are craving space to contra dance the night away. Dancers say the closest permanent contra dance floor requires a long drive over the mountains at night to Sylva.

Guffey said another possibility is providing the school’s commercial-grade kitchen to local farmers and holding food processing classes.

He’s heard from a strong contingent of local families who are adamant about keeping the school’s walking track, baseball field and playground in tact.

Ultimately, having a mix of uses would be ideal, Guffey said.

“It’s an opportunity to have a lot of things in on spot,” said Guffey. “It also makes it easier in terms of sustaining it financially.”

Input sought

A two-day public workshop will be held on the future use of the Cowee School and its role in the greater historic district. The public session runs at the Cowee School from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, and from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14. Free lunch provided at noon on Saturday in the cafeteria.

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