Macon County will not sell Pine Grove School

The Pine Grove School was built in 1912. Donated photo The Pine Grove School was built in 1912. Donated photo

After extensive input from Macon residents who wanted to see the old Pine Grove School remain available for community use, the county commission has decided not to sell the old school building. 

“Thank you for coming out tonight,” Commissioner Josh Young said in an address to the members of the public that showed up to advocate for the Pine Grove School. “Thank you for your time. Your presence is powerful.” 

During the April 9 county commission meeting, the board held a public hearing on the possible sale of the old Pine Grove School. The school building, originally constructed in 1912, is situated on a 1.26-acre tract of land located at the junction of Peeks Creek Road and the Highlands Road.

Seven people took to the podium during the public hearing, five of whom spoke against the sale of the property. At least one of those speakers advocating against the sale spoke on behalf of a larger group.

The old Pine Grove School is used as a polling place for the Sugarfork voting precinct, and according to Macon County Board of Elections Director Melanie Thibault, the building has served that purpose for over 80 years.

“We know that the old Holly Springs and the Scaly Mountain schools have both been restored for community use as well as voting polling places for their districts and we are respectfully asking you all to designate that the Pine Grove School be reserved for the same purpose and continued to be used for that and not be sold into private hands,” said Macon resident Marci Holland.

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The site where the building is located served as a school in the community from 1855-1949.

“I grew up on Peeks Creek. I think that the best history lessons are taught by your grandparents, and my first encounter with the old schoolhouse, other than seeing it, was my grandfather’s history stories about how he went to school there and walked to school and had to leave there in 8th grade because the family had fallen on hard times,” said Julie Tastinger. “My second history lesson was a civics lesson that involved the old schoolhouse, and that was [from] my mom because every single time she voted she took us with her and we got a lesson about democracy and freedom and the constitution and how we had a civil obligation to vote every single time.”

In 2006, there was an effort to restore the building for community use. The building was updated to add bathrooms, a kitchen area, new windows, a handicapped accessible ramp and roof repairs. Each of the original pine floorboards were pulled up, sanded and re-laid. Part of the effort included the creation of a community club, called the Macon County Preservation Society, to maintain the building moving forward.

“I would like to ask you to preserve the old schoolhouse because I don’t think she’s done teaching history lessons to the kids of Macon County or to any of us,” said Tastinger.

During the renovations, a memorial was also erected for the Peeks Creek Disaster landslide caused by hurricane Ivan in 2004, in which five people lost their lives.

news pinegrove plaque

According to board attorney Eric Ridenhour, some time after renovations were complete, interest in the organization waned and upkeep of the building fell back to the county.

“Then it was brought before the board as to whether or not the county wanted to reaccept title to that, and it did, so we got the title back,” said Ridenhour.

Several members of the public indicated that they wanted to reconvene the community organization to maintain the building.

“We did not learn of, until recently, the disbanding of the original community club and that the Pine Grove School was turned back over to the county in 2021,” said Holland. “So, the people that I am here with tonight and some others that couldn’t make the meeting are willing to serve as a new community club to oversee the maintenance, the upkeep and the use of the building by the community.” 

After the public hearing, Commissioner John Shearl made a motion not to discuss and take action on the Pine Grove School property. Young suggested that the group that showed up to the county meeting try to put together a nonprofit entity that could provide funds necessary for insurance and maintenance of the building moving forward.

“Essentially, the community built a building for the community, and I have interest in giving it back to the community the way it was intended to be,” said Young. “I feel like the building should go back in the hands of the rightful owners as long as there is a proper, nonprofit setup to properly oversee all needed aspects and maintenance of the building.” 

With unanimous support from the board, the commission asked that the community members convened, led by Marci Holland, put work into creating a nonprofit to support the community space, as well as determining whether the school building can be designated as a historically significant site. Commissioners asked those community members to come back before the board after that some of that research and work has been completed.

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