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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2005
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From left, David Burleson, Amy Golden, Faye Walker and Gayle Strider have a laugh as Mitch Coon, right, recalls the time her entire class received a paddling at F.E. Burleson Elementary.
DAILY Photo by John Godbey
From left, David Burleson, Amy Golden, Faye Walker and Gayle Strider have a laugh as Mitch Coon, right, recalls the time her entire class received a paddling at F.E. Burleson Elementary.

One penny at a time
Group raising funds to save F.E. Burleson

By Deangelo McDaniel
DAILY Staff Writer

dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — If walls could talk, which stories would they tell about the students who attended the old F.E. Burleson School on College Street?

David Burleson and Amy Golden, left, examine the second-floor hallway at the old F.E. Burleson Elementary while Faye Walker checks to see what's behind the peeling paint.
DAILY Photo by John Godbey
David Burleson and Amy Golden, left, examine the second-floor hallway at the old F.E. Burleson Elementary while Faye Walker checks to see what's behind the peeling paint.
Maybe they would talk about the switches that the late principal F.E. Burleson kept in the corner of the office or about the plays students performed in the auditorium.

Maybe they would tell about the time teacher Ruth Thompson disciplined her entire class.

Mitch Howell Coon doesn't remember what the class did, but she was one of the students Thompson disciplined.

It's not her most pleasant memory of what is arguably one of the most recognizable buildings in North Alabama. But it's a memory that keeps Coon working with the Hartselle Historical Society to save the school, known primarily for its red bricks and white columns.

The stately old school with the elevated entrance has been on the endangered species list since students left for a new school in 2001.

But it is still alive, primarily because of community volunteers who attended classes there or whose families attended the school.

So far, the group has raised about $218,000. But, the organization spent $144,000 replacing the roof and facing and restoring the white columns.

Amy Golden would like to see this second-story classroom at the former F.E. Burleson Elementary School turned into a dance studio.
DAILY Photo by John Godbey
Amy Golden would like to see this second-story classroom at the former F.E. Burleson Elementary School turned into a dance studio.
Society members said they are determined to save the building, even it means raising the required millions one penny at a time.

David Burleson, son of F.E. Burleson, is realistic, but optimistic. He is chairman of the Historical Society.

"It's going to take a few million — maybe two, three or five million," he said.

But letting the building go is not an alternative.

"No, it's not," retired school administrator Faye Walker said.

What about demolition?

"They better not even think about it," Gayle Strider, a member of the Historical Society, said. "We're going to use this building no matter what. We're going to repair it, if we have to do one thing at a time."

Added Coon: "If they tried to tear this building down, they would have to tear through us. And we're going to tie ourselves to one of the columns."

The goal is to turn the school into a fine arts center. Already, volunteers have removed walls to expose the auditorium and stage that was there 30 years ago. They want to remove the dropped ceiling and restore the balcony, which allowed the auditorium to seat about 250 visitors.

"We want to restore it to the way it was built in 1916," Burleson said.

Amy Golden's husband and children attended classes at the school. She is trying to obtain a grant through the Alabama Council of Arts to help pay for engineering.

"We need to know if what we have planned is possible and if it's financially realistic," she said.

Golden also believes Hartselle should have something for students who don't participate in athletics. That's why some Historical Society members want to start a drama club at Hartselle High in the hope that students will use the old school for practice and plays.

Strider said the acoustics in the auditorium are excellent for drama, speech and music programs, but heating and cooling problems remain.

"The building is very structurally sound, but there are issues like this that we have to address," Burleson said. "A lot of the needs are cosmetic, but they are very expensive cosmetic needs."

Considering the building is where his father long parked his trademark blue 1957 Chevrolet, he said, "Doing nothing is not an option."

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