July 29, 2015 Edition

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Black Rock works to
preserve school buildings

Jeanette Darris (left) and Linda Robertson set out some of the items to be displayed at the new Black Rock museum, which will be housed in the former Black Rock High School building.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

When the city of Black Rock heard the news that its school would consolidate with the Walnut Ridge campus, there was a pang felt throughout the community. For many, it was very hard to let go, for others it was near impossible.

Since then, the city has worked to purchase the historic high school, cafeteria and gymnasium to use for a museum, community center and sports complex, allowing the school to stay alive and serve the city in a whole new way.

This was Mayor Bonnie Ragsdale's greatest hope when the school closed. She had always wanted the buildings to be preserved and continue to be a part of the city.

"I took awhile to get the buildings, and just as Rome wasn't built in a day, this is not going to be done in a day," Ragsdale said.

However, a group of dedicated volunteers are working hard to make sure that the project is completed. Since the purchase, there have been volunteers at the school almost every day to clean, repair and revitalize the buildings that had stood empty for about a year.

"If the school had set longer, the buildings would be in a lot worse shape," said Audrey Meeks, one of the volunteers.

The largest repairs to be done include some roof and floor work but for the most part the renovation will include touch ups and minor repairs with the buildings mostly staying the same.

"They hold a lot of sentimental value," Ragsdale said. "We didn't want to see these buildings torn down."

Committees have been formed to oversee the different buildings. Pat Roby Jr. is heading the committee working on the community center, which will be located in the former cafeteria. Jeanette Darris is chair of the museum committee, which is in the high school building. Kathy Robertson and Heath Russell will be working together to lead work done on the ball field and gymnasium, which will be used as the city's sports complex.

In addition, the vocational, administration and old agriculture buildings have been purchased by Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, which means everything on the high school side of the campus has been purchased.

"I can't think of a better neighbor," Ragsdale said.

The three committees and the church will work together to make the school buildings an asset for the city.

"We are all in it together. We're all going to work together and that brings Black Rock together," Meeks said.

Preserving history

The Black Rock School was founded in 1894 and saw 119 graduating classes before it consolidated in 2014. The history surrounding the school and the community of Black Rock has left the museum committee with a wealth of material they can create educational exhibits around.

The high school building, which originally served as the school's main building, will serve as a time capsule for that history. Darris said there will be seven rooms available for setting up unique displays.

Three exhibits planned already are a grade school exhibit, a town history exhibit, which will include information about local businesses over the years, and a sports exhibit, which will be dubbed the Zebra Room.

Several unique items have been donated including a pump organ from the McCarroll family and Miss Patty's old piano. The committee invites anyone to make a donation to the museum of anything related to the school or the city.

With Black Rock once being a major area hub with hotels, factories and a large train depot and ferry system, there are many items over the years to choose from. Whether it's buttons from the old button factory, family heirlooms or old photographs, the committee is dedicated to providing a place to show the city's rich history and preserve the items left to them by the generations before.

Once a Zebra
Always a Zebra

As the volunteers work on the buildings, they often find themselves sharing memories of the school with each other. From a teacher having to pull the hair of a student to get them to stop talking in class, to winning a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola for being the first to complete the multiplication tables correctly, to students sneaking down to the basement to smoke, the stories told were numerous and remembered fondly.

However, while the volunteers have enjoyed sorting through the items left with the school and the memories shared, it has remained a bittersweet endeavor.

"It hurts so bad because we lost our school," Darris said. "You don't think about losing your school until it happens."

Volunteers remain grateful for what they do have though and Meeks said they are very fortunate to have the buildings and be able to preserve the school in their own way. "Think about how many lose the school and lose it all."

Meeks also said she was happy to see many Black Rock students' transition to Walnut Ridge go as smooth as it did. "We're a lot closer to Walnut Ridge than we thought."

However, just as the paint on the front of the gymnasium on the Black Rock campus still reads, "Once a Zebra, Always a Zebra."

"Our community and school spirit is still alive and well," Ragsdale said.

While grant money is being pursued, the project will be funded mostly through donations. Those wishing to make a donation or volunteer their time may call the city hall at 870-878-6792. Material donations of lumber, trophy cases and Plexiglas are also needed.

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