Brewton school saga, Part III: Albatross

Dr. B.D. Perry school opened in 1958 in Laurens County, six years after Laurens County’s school building program began. It opened two years after black students in eastern Laurens County were denied use of Brewton School.

Brewton School had been a white school building, but Laurens officials with state approval planned on remodeling it and enlarging it for use by black students. Brewton’s white students were going to be abandoning the building for the new East Laurens High, an all-grades building that opened in April 1956.

Despite Brewton’s updates being 90 percent complete, builders were forced to stop. Part of one wing was being built on private property. Local Brewtonians, who admitted they did not want black students in that school, now had their wish.

Left in a quandary about what to do with black students in substandard schools (especially when parents at Buckeye Junior High balked at returning to their building), the state and county figured out a plan. A new $350,000 black school was to be built on land donated State Board of Education member W.H. Lovett. The State Board of Education paid for the building, rather than the State School Building Authority.

When the matter of black students was settled, Laurens County still had a mess on its hands in the western half of the county that was centered on Rentz. Rentz was going to be the site of a consolidated high school, but several Laurens communities liked neither the location nor having to transport their students there.

And Laurens County still had Brewton School. Approximately $232,000 had been invested into the building, which was 90 percent complete when construction was halted in 1956.

In February 1957, Curtis Beall, the man who owned the property where Brewton School approached, offered to donate the parcel to the school system – if the building housed white students. Even without a solution, Beall deeded the land to Laurens County’s Board of Education in 1958, plus some extra, a total of eight acres.

The state did not want to pay for an unused, but perfectly usable building. It desperately wanted to recoup money.

So began the process of trying to find a solution for Brewton.

When Beall offered the land at Brewton, it was hoped Laurens would get a naval air base. In that event, many families with many students would move in and Brewton would be needed.

Dublin had previously had a naval air base, which was used for transporting soldiers to the local naval hospital. The hospital was turned over to the Veterans Administration. Dublin’s naval air base was initially passed by the United States House of Representatives, but soon dropped from consideration in July 1956.

In January 1957, Dublin hoped it was in the running again for a naval jet air base and a site was inspected, but little to no progress seems to have been made with the idea.

Laurens began entertaining other ideas. Despite still owning the building, Georgia’s State Board of Education told Laurens to do what it wanted with it.

In July 1959, equipment was removed from Brewton after state approval. At that time, the Dublin Courier Herald said Laurens was attempting to get a state trade school to locate to Brewton.

The State School Building Authority wanted rid of the Brewton problem. In February 1961, it traded the title of Brewton to the State Board of Education in exchange for Dr. B.D. Perry School. The State Board planned on giving Brewton to Laurens County.

At this point, Laurens had a new plan for Brewton: a home for special education children.

In 1961, education of mentally handicapped children was limited. Few school systems had special education programs. Many were institutionalized or housed at special schools, with Gracewood in Augusta being one of the most eminent.

Later in 1961, Representative Culver Kidd said Brewton could be converted into a 425-bed home for handicapped children for $300,000. There was a waiting list 1,000 deep for Gracewood, he said.

Kidd’s idea was shot down quickly, however.

State Health Department director Dr. John H. Venable said Brewton was “not a suitable location for such a program.” Brewton was too far from medical facilities and Venable doubted that many talented doctors would be willing to move to rural Laurens County.

Venable did not seem to be against Brewton as a temporary site, but an unnamed doctor told The Atlanta Constitution that using Brewton was a “completely untenable idea.”

A year after being turned down for a mentally handicapped home, Laurens County requested the title for the building. An Associated Press story appearing in the Columbus Daily Enquirer said at this point the building had been damaged by vandals, with windows smashed and content stolen.

Laurens wanted the title because it was considering physically moving the building. Superintendent H.E. Davidson said he wanted the building to be somewhere free from objections. Cost would be considerable, said the Associated Press article, and at the time, it was not something discussed by the State Board.

In 1965, Laurens County, who had gotten the title, planned to sell Brewton. Surplus property was going to be auctioned from the site.

In the end, no one found a real solution for Brewton.

More than 60 years after classes were last held in the building, Brewton School still stands. The only idea that seems to have actually worked was Laurens County’s attempt to sell it.

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The remains of Brewton School, photographed in 2017. There are few places from the public roadway where much of the building is visible. Vandals damaged the building in the early years, but time has done its job since. The most visible wing is quite possibly the one that allowed Brewton citizens to deny its use.

Brewton’s building is now barely visible from the roadway. Trees have nearly surrounded it.

It is unknown when Laurens found a buyer for the property, but that seems to have happened by 1971. Laurens County property records list improvements made to the site – a storage facility in 1971 and another in 1974.

The current property owner obtained it in 2014. In 2017, the property and land were valued at a total price of $37,357, a long way from the $232,000 worth of improvements nearly finished in 1956, not to mention the existing building at Brewton.

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Nature is reclaiming Brewton School.

In 2017 money, the $232,000 spent on Brewton equals $2.1 million. In 1956 money, the $37,357 in current value of the building and land would have been $4,135.

Once considered a perfect use of soon-to-be useless property and a cheaper alternative to a completely new school, Brewton cost the state $350,000 extra on another building to solve the student problem. Then Brewton became a burden on three different organizations, all of which unloaded it on someone else.

Sources: Dublin Courier Herald – April 10, 1956, June 19, 1956, Feb. 23, 1957, July 22, 1959; Southern School News – November 1956; Augusta Chronicle – July 10, 1956, Aug. 31, 1956; Brunswick News – July 7, 1956; Columbus Daily Enquirer – July 24, 1956, Jan. 25, 1957, Oct. 5, 1962; Marietta Daily Journal – July 20, 1959; The Atlanta Constitution – March 1, 1961, Nov. 3, 1961, Nov. 4, 1961, July 29, 1965

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