published Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Murray County opens rebuilt Rock Building


by Adam Crisp
The Old Rock Building in Chatsworth, Ga., has been renovated following a 2009 fire that gutted the 77-year-old structure. The building will now how house administrative offices.
Staff Photo by Adam Crisp/Chattanooga Times Free Press
The Old Rock Building in Chatsworth, Ga., has been renovated following a 2009 fire that gutted the 77-year-old structure. The building will now how house administrative offices. Staff Photo by Adam Crisp/Chattanooga Times Free Press

THE ROCK BUILDING

* Built: 1934

* Students in 1934: 300

* Teachers in 1934: 13

* 1935: Home economics building, cannery and electric lights added

* 1935: First graduation held

* 2004: Placed on the National Register of Historic Places

* Sept. 26, 2009: Fire guts old school

Source: Murray County Museum online archives and history

CHATSWORTH, Ga. — The Old Rock Building has been a part of Chatsworth’s landscape for 77 years, but after a 2009 fire that gutted the stone-and-mortar structure, it wasn’t clear if anyone would grace its halls again.

On Tuesday, though, Murray County Schools employees reopened the building, which will be used as administrative offices for the school system.

The $1.7 million project had its detractors, but this week officials say it was an investment that hasn’t cost taxpayers a penny and will preserve a big piece of Murray’s past.

“There was mixed reaction initially to rebuilding it,” said Danny Dunn, the school system’s director of personnel and facilities. “No one even dreamed that it could be rebuilt.”

An engineer hired by the system’s insurance company initially threw cold water on the idea because he worried about the stability of the standing walls, Dunn said, and there was public opposition to investing in the project during several called meetings.

Because insurance paid for the building’s renovation — including using steel beams to reinforce the walls — most detractors have embraced the rebuilding effort as a good thing, said school board member Jackie Rogers.

“A lot of people had concerns,” Rogers said. “When you saw how the building looked after the fire, a lot of people questioned it. But now, seeing how it turned out, people are thrilled.”

New Deal workers constructed the Rock Building in 1934 from rocks blasted to build a highway over Fort Mountain. The building has housed two schools — a high and a middle school — since its construction.

Just before it was struck by lightning and burned, the building was only being used for storage and, though some historic assets were lost during the blaze, the fire actually helped the system pay for its renovation through insurance.

“It would have been years and years before we could have rebuilt it,” school Superintendent Vickie Reed said. “We had some great citizens helping before the fire, but with the economy like it is, it would have been a very long time.”

On Tuesday, the school system invited the public to tour the building during an official dedication. Employees will begin a three-day move-in today.

The dedication brought out countless alumni, who had attended classes at the building over the years.

“I graduated from here in 1939,” said 88-year-old William Leonard. “I felt bad when I saw it burned down, but this is great. When I saw them put up the steel beams to support the walls, I knew everything would be OK.”

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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