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History in Peril: Restoration committee needs community's help to save historic Fairview School building in Cave Spring

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In 1924, a small school was erected in Cave Spring. It was small but it meant big things for many African-American Children in the county. It meant education and a better life than the one they knew.

For years now, a committee has been trying to repair and restore that building. But without the community’s help, a vital link to the county’s past could be lost forever to time and Kudzu.

But there is hope. This year, the preservation committee’s plans include a fundraising gala as well as children’s events, a symposium and a cleanup day at the site. All this is an attempt restore the building, eventually turning it into an exhibit and museum dedicated to preserving the memory of the school’s pivotal role in the county and state’s educational system — particularly its role in local African-American education.

“The main focus at the moment is to secure funds to stabilize the building to prevent further deterioration and then begin repairs and restoration,” said Joyce Perdue-Smith, chairman of the Fairview and E.S. Brown Heritage Corporation. “It needs a foundation and it needs to be restored. Then we can move ahead with the other phases of the project.”

In the early 1900s the Fairview Colored School was erected under the Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington philanthropic building campaign to provide an education for African-Americans. The first grade building is the only thing that remains of the campus.

The first phase of the restoration project is to preserve the building and restore landscaping and interpretive essentials. This will cost about $400,000. it will include a “living campus” and turn the school building into an interpretive center, attracting tourists and hosting school field trips. The committee hopes this will be completed by 2015.

Phase two of the project will be the construction of cabins to house classroom instruction. At an estimated cost of $150,000, this phase will require in-kind donations and the committee hopes for a 2015-16 completion date.

The final phase will include the construction of a multi-purpose building offering preparatory programs as a feeder school to technical colleges and centers.

But the later phases won’t be more than a dream if the community doesn’t lend it’s support.

“Most people in Rome and Floyd County know about Martha Berry and her work with poor mountain children,” said John Ware, a project advisor who has close ties to the school. His mother, Margaret Ware, taught at Fairview early in her career. “But a lot of people aren’t aware that another facet of this community mirrored that. The Fairview school was a haven for underprivileged black children. It needs our support.”

A series of events is being planned to raise awareness for the project and to raise funds. On Sept. 27, , the committee will host its first children’s event on the Fairview campus in Cave Spring based around the cultural and educational experience. Local schools in Cave Spring — Cave Spring Elementary and Georgia School for the Deaf — will attend.  The program is titled “The George Washington Carver Experiment.”

Also planned for September is a work day. First year students at Berry College will be helping to clear away kudzu from the property. Perdue-Smith said they need community help in the form of dumpsters, gravel, tools, gardening items and a new tarp.

“We need money,” she said. “We need a construction company with specific experience in historic preservation, not one with commercial experience. It will be a dream of a project for someone who loves historic preservation. Our architect says this is going to be a slow, deliberate preservation.”

In November, an anniversary celebration weekend will commemorate the 90th anniversary of the school being built and will include a symposium at Berry College featuring appearances by descendants of Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald.

A gala dinner and silent auction are planned for Nov. 8 at Forrest Place Hotel.

Perdue-Smith says the Fairview restoration project is vital to the community in a number of ways. It’s a historical and cultural link for many local families whose members may have attended or event taught at the school.

But at it’s core, the school is just that — a school — a place for children.

“And we want it to be a place for children again,” she said with an earnest smile. “It was once a place where young African-American children could go to be respected and educated. We want to bring that place back and celebrate it.”

For additional information about the Fairview-E.S. Brown Restoration Project, call Joyce Perdue-Smith at 404-759-3918 or visit online at www.fairviewbrown.org. Checks can be made out to The Fairview/ES Brown Heritage Corporation and mailed to 3 Central Plaza, Box 147, Rome Ga., 30161.