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Deed transfer buoys Bath effort

By By JONATHAN CLAYBORNE
Staff Writer

BATH — With the simple but long-hoped-for transfer of a deed, Bath High School Preservation acquired the former Bath High School property from the town government.
Around 25 members and supporters of the nonprofit celebrated the recent deed transfer, which officially placed the building and grounds in the restoration group’s hands, during a small, informal ceremony outside the former school Friday evening.
The Town of Bath sold the property to the preservation entity for $100,000, said Mayor Jimmy Latham, who attended the celebration along with Town Administrator Bubs Carson.
“I think it’s a very good thing for the town and, obviously, it was a good thing for the high school group,” Latham said of the sale.
Under its agreement with the town, BHS Preservation has to pay the local government $20,000 a year for five years, and the first payment has been made, said Jimmy Edwards, president of the foundation and a 1959 graduate of the school.
“We can raise the money,” he said. “That’s not a question.”
According to Edwards, the restoration project began around five years ago when former Bath resident Peggy Daw moved to save the collection of unused school buildings after the Beaufort County Board of Education decided to have them torn down.
“She started everything,” Edwards said. “Nobody was doing anything, the building was languishing here.”
Built from 1918 through 1921, the school saw its last class graduate in 1989, the preservation group’s Web site reads.
In the years after the members of that final senior class turned their tassels, the roof began to leak, windows were broken and minor structural problems began to plague the empty buildings.
Since volunteers started their mission to save the old school, windows have been replaced, the roof has been patched, and the structure has been stabilized, related Edwards, who led an impromptu tour through an empty auditorium that still sports its original, fold-down seats.
“I can remember as a senior walking in and taking my place here,” he said, pointing to the front row.
As for the future, supporters of the renovation project say they envision a museum maintained in cooperation with the Bath Historic Commission, a room in which to clean, catalog and preserve artifacts from around the historic town, and a performance space on the auditorium stage.
Some of the artifacts that would be featured in the building are owned by town residents, Edwards said.
“They’re not very far away,” he commented. “They’re out there in the community.”
Bobby Roberson, a Washington city councilman who was on hand for Friday’s event, has served as vice president of the preservation entity. Roberson said he wants to explore grant-application opportunities for getting the buildings up to par.
Marti Buchanan, publicity chairwoman for BHS Preservation, led off Friday’s proceedings by thanking town officials and others for their help in pushing the project this far.
Buchanan introduced local musicians Dennis and Karen Modlin, who performed two songs, including an original song Dennis Modlin wrote for the 1977 run of Stuart Aronson’s outdoor drama, “Blackbeard: Knight of the Black Flag.”
Buchanan said the BHS Preservation board will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bath Christian Church. The scheduled speaker is Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer.