Architect Joe Smith from Madison said he thinks the biggest challenge he faced after being introduced to the project in 2011 was simply convincing some supporters that the badly weather-worn and neglected old 1945 classroom building was capable of being saved.
Saturday, Smith called the project, "the most compelling, most important, most significant" project he's been involved with.
Joyce Perdue-Smith, who has spearheaded the project for the past nine years, said the quote that suits the culmination of nine years of work was, "Success is when preparation meets opportunity."
Close to two dozen alumni of the Fairview and E.S. Brown Schools were on hand for the groundbreaking, which came about a week and a half after Savannah Construction and Preservation crews started work to stabilize the foundation of the building in time to save a federal grant.
Roxie Hollins, 92, of Tallapoosa, was the oldest living alumnus on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony.
"This is so exciting," Hollins said. "I really don't remember what it looked like."
Eddie Hood, Rome, is another one of the alumni who was on hand Saturday.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to restore a part of our history," Hood said. "I'm just so happy for all of the alumni who are here today to celebrate the restoration of a big part of our education process." Hood said that he did not attend classes in the first grade building that is the only part of the complex still standing, but went to school on the campus from second grade through seventh grade in the at 1940s and early 1950s.
Gary Thorne, one of the owners of Savannah Construction and Preservation, said the biggest challenge during the first stages of the restoration process has been making sure the walls stayed intact while they were being jacked up to level.
"It was a lot of little lifts to get it back into straight," Thorne said. "We also had to brace up the ceiling several times. We were a little concerned about the rafters failing, so we wanted to make sure that while we were lifting and changing the weight loads of the building we weren't pushing it over."
Thorne said he'll have as many as five employees on site all day until the foundation work is complete, with others in a shop rebuilding windows and doors over the next several weeks.
Architect Smith said the building is being restored to precisely what it looked like when it was built in 1945.
"I'm incredibly pleased with what's happened so far, and I look forward to seeing what happens after the next three and four months," Smith said. He said the contractors are doing their best to preserve as much of the original windows, doors, flooring and roofing as possible.
Thorne told the Rome News-Tribune that he hopes to have the restoration work completed before Christmas.