Middle school destruction

A large backhoe starts the beginning of the end for the old South Middle School on Friday. In a few short minutes, the backhoe tears down a major section of the structure’s exterior walls. North Middle School’s demolition is expected to begin in a week.

With two new North and South middle schools being built, contractors are removing the old structures, and the first teachers and students from 52 years ago attended special events Friday to give their old facilities one last goodbye.

A special tribute was held at 10 a.m. at South and an identical ceremony was held at North at 1 p.m.

Those who attended took a look back at what the two schools offered to them and to the community.

They expressed sadness that the old facilities are gone, but most appreciated the progress being made to give current students new educational facilities.

South faculty members who attended the first event included Dan Wilkinson, general shop and eighth-grade science teacher; Carl Burnette, seventh-grade science and physical education teacher; Danny Smith, assistant principal, ninth-grade science and basketball coach; and Patty Priest, math teacher.

Priest said she had just left Middle State Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro to begin her teaching career at South and the then-new facility with its round-building structures.

“I have lots of memories here,” she said, then referring to getting the new buildings. “It needs to happen.”

Burnette expressed remorse at the old buildings going down.

“It’s more or less a sad thing for me,” he said.

Wilkinson echoed Burnette’s sentiments.

“In the 42 years I spent in education, I have an awful lot of memories here,” he said. “I’m sad to see it go.”

Smith concurred.

“It’s sad, really sad,” he said. “In a way, I’m glad there’s progress being made, but it’s sad to see it being tore down. I remember all the fun we had here, but progress means that things have to go forward.”

The rapport the teachers had with the heart of the old South facility was evident when the teachers were lining up for a photo opportunity in front of the old school’s main entrance just before a large wrecking backhoe began demolition.

Director of Schools Stanley Bean said an obvious question is what the outcome would be “if these walls could talk?”

Smith jokingly replied: “We’d all be in jail.”

The first South students who attended the event were Sandy Elliott, Patty Bean, Ruby Taylor and Bedelia Spencer.

They were in the Franklin County High School class of 1972.

Elliott explained her assessment of the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new feeling.

“I see progress and love it, but it’s sad to see the old school torn down,” she said. “The future changes every day.”

She said the changing milestone is significant because the first students’ children and grandchildren have also attended South.

Patty Bean expressed similar sentiments.

“I just love the school,” she said, referring to South and its traditions.

Patty Bean said the current and future South students are very deserving of their new school facility.

Spencer said it’s difficult to see the old school go.

“I’m sad it’s being torn down,” she said. “But I’m glad they have the new school, especially for the students. I have a lot of memories here — basketball memories.”

Taylor referred to South’s traditions and the milestone’s significance.

“I’m part of three generations who have gone to school here,” she said, adding that she was the first, then her daughter and grandson also attended.

“I think it’s sad,” she said, referring to the old school being torn down. “We really enjoyed this.”

She explained that South’s circular buildings were a novelty to the young students, and they were reminiscent of spaceships, going hand-in-hand with the space-race theme in the 1960s.

“It’s going to be odd, driving by and not seeing them here,” Taylor said.

North faculty members who attended the second event included James Carmack, assistant principal and coach, shop and physical education teacher; Laura Lowndes, English, Latin and French teacher; Angie Fuller, health, physical education and science teacher and basketball and track coach; and math teacher Randy Stephens.

Carmack said it’s difficult to see the old school go.

“It’s sad to me because this was one of the best facilities at the time,” he said. “We had a great faculty with Principal H. Louis Scott, and we had a great shop area, and it was a great place for the students to learn.”

He said North Middle School has an extensive history, depicted by his sister Betty Richardson, who had taught there for 36 years before retiring.

Lowndes had similar sentiments to Carmack’s.

“I’m sad but glad they kept the two middle schools,” she said, referring to how she appreciates the School Board not combining North and South into one middle school.

Lowndes said being back for a final tribute was well worth her time.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” she said, adding that she feels sorry that other faculty members who had passed away couldn’t have been there to share in the occasion.

Fuller, in addition to having taught at North, is a Franklin County commissioner who voted to fund the new North and South middle schools.

She also expressed mixed feelings about seeing the old North facility being torn down.

“I’m sad, of course,” she said, adding that although the old facilities are being replaced, it was necessary. “When I saw all the leaks and the mold in the attic, it showed me that they really needed to be replaced.”

Fuller said she’s glad that the system will still have the two middle schools, plus their original upgraded gymnasiums.

Stephens said he sees the progress being made as a step in the right direction.

“My philosophy is you have to embrace progress, even though it’s sad to see this old school go,” he said. “Progress is necessary to keep our lives moving ahead. I see this new school as progress for the county.”

The first students from the old North school who attended the tribute included Johnny O’Neal, Stanley Bean, Thomas Faris, Linda Finney Newman, Karen Crabtree Spencer and Mark Bassett.

O’Neal said the first thought that comes to mind is that it’s so hard to believe that the time those students first walked through the then-new North Middle School’s doors was 52 years ago.

“A lot of time has gone by,” he said. “Being here really brings back a lot of memories.”

Bean, who had also been North’s principal, said the old North school opened many opportunities for its students, and he is thankful for what the school has given to him personally and to the community.

Faris explained that his father, Thomas A. Faris, was on the School Board that approved the two middle schools in 1967, which brings back a lot of memories.

“It’s progress,” he said, referring to the new schools. “But it’s great the old ones lasted 52 years. I think we all got a quality education here.”

Finney Newman said the old school brings back memories, but she believes the current North students need the same opportunity she had as a child — the chance to go to a brand new school.

“They need to come into a new school,” she said.

Crabtree Spencer said she got to spend her first three years in middle school at North, and she’s glad the old facility carried on such a legacy.

“I think this school has served the community well,” she said. “It really brought the community together, but it’s nice the students now are going to experience a new school.”

Bassett said he was the first student to walk through the new North Middle School’s front doors in 1968.

He said he really appreciated the chance to go to a new middle school that was greatly needed because the old Decherd Elementary School had greatly deteriorated.

Bassett recalled that the student body seemed so large that some of the first students were learning in the hallways outside the circular classrooms.

“We had some great teachers, and we learned a lot,” he said. “It was really a great time.”