Work at Demopolis Old School needs help

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 6, 2003

It is easy for people to get anxious about the Old Main Street School building. The Canebrake Players are not able to use the building because the city has closed it for safety purposes. City council members are anxious about the cost of fixing the building.

No matter, the Demopolis City Council has made a commitment to renovate the building. Work to the tune of approximately $66,170 has already been done to fix the roof, and the city has applied for a $400,560 grant to renovate the plumbing, the electrical system and air conditioning. The city will have to match half of that total grant amount.

Council members have an engineer’s estimate of $200,000 alone for electrical work, necessary to make the building safe to allow the Canebrake Players or the Two Rivers Arts Council to produce future events there.

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Many residents have expressed concern about the old building through the years, and the Canebrake Players have done well to keep the building from falling down. Now it is time for area residents to join with the city to help fund the restoration of the building.

It is probably not a great time to ask for money for a historic building. The overall poor national economy, the possibility of a new one-cent county sales tax and the vote on Governor Bob Riley’s tax reform plan looming, citizens are a bit jittery about their pocketbook.

However, if there was ever a time to get behind the effort for the Old School, this is the time. Three local non-profit organizations, the Canebrake Players, the Two Rivers Arts Council and the Marengo County Historical Society are putting their support behind a new fund called Friends of the Old School.

This fund will collect money from citizens concerned about the Old School, and the money will only be used for restoration of the historic building. Money collected will be given out as grants to the City of Demopolis to help with what will certainly be a mounting restoration bill.

It is impossible to think the City of Demopolis will be able to pay for the entire restoration of the building. Revenues are down, and the council has countless projects to fund. The three organizations named, Canebrake, Two Rivers and the historical society, do not have the kind of money to put toward such an effort. So it will take the help of private citizens, businesses and corporations to help the Old School come alive again as a community arts center.

The commitment has been made by the arts council to produce programs on the Old School stage. There are already plans for the Judson Choir and Southern Danceworks of Birmingham to perform there next year. The arts council would also like to help sponsor more Canebrake productions.

However, the costly electrical work needs to be done soon so Canebrake can get back in the building, and the stage will be available for other organizations.

Canebrake has already had to cancel one production, and there is a possibility that the electrical work may not be finished until the end of the year. I would rather see Canebrake inconvenienced for several months if there is progress on the building’s restoration.

It took a long time for the condition of the Old Main Street Building to deteriorate, despite the best efforts of the historical society and the Canebrake Players. It will take some time to get the building back to shape.

Even though I am not an alumnus of the Old School, I have jumped in to lead the effort because I can see the potential there, and I don’t want to ride by some night and see a landmark in the city burning from some electrical wiring problem.

The building is located in a beautiful preserved part of town. To lose it I think would be to lose the heart of the city.

There is no reason to point fingers at why the building was neglected for so many years; it is rather time for all those concerned to get out their pocketbooks and help with the effort. The City of Demopolis has made a commitment so let’s join the council in making the full restoration a reality.

Anyone interested in sending a donation to renovation fund can do so by the writing: "Old School Renovation," c/o The Two Rivers Arts Council, P.O. Box 1187, Demopolis, AL 36732.

Anyone wishing more information, can contact me at The Times at 289-4017 or E-mail at

Let’s make sure future generations of school children will be able to perform on the Old School stage.