Trenton Woodley, a political science major at the University of Tennessee at Martin joined a community cleanup effort at the former Martin Middle School building Monday morning.
As many celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and his impact on today’s American culture, others rolled up their sleeves and volunteered to help with a cleanup project at a place many Martin citizens remember very well and hold close to their hearts.
In 1952, the Weakley County Training School was constructed on North McComb Street in Martin. The school was for African-American students in the county during a dark period of segregation in the South.
In 1966, the school was renamed Martin Junior High School as a result of integration of black and white students in the county. MJH remained in that location until the fall of 1997, when it moved into the former Westview High School.
After MJH’s departure, according to tax records, Marvin Alexander purchased the property at an auction from Weakley County in December of 1997. Daystar Ministries, which ran Unity Christian School, a Christian-affiliated, private co-ed school, purchased the building in November 1999. The City of Martin purchased the building from Daystar Ministries last year.
Two men in particular share a vision of this building becoming a focal point for the Martin community in the future. Brian Harris, executive director at Martin Housing Authority, and Robert Nunley, director of the after-school program at Martin Housing Authority, are enthusiastic about the potential the old schoolhouse has and the many ways it can be utilized by local residents.
On Monday, Harris, Nunley and a group of volunteers from the University of Tennessee at Martin gathered to help with some of the cleanup that has been going on for over a year now.
“The City of Martin bought this building and now we are in the process of working with them to restore the building, along with the university so this becomes a community place, an arts and culture center, a recreation center, a senior center, and this could be a rallying point for the community at large. We don’t need this building to be torn down; we don’t have much left in the community that preserves our (Martin) history and memories people have of this space and I think that it is critical and symbolic that we try to keep it,” Nunley said.
The city is already using the old football field for its junior football league. There is still much work to be done to complete the renovations to be able to utilize the inside of the building.
The roof leaks in many spots and mold has grown on some of the walls as a result, in addition to the damage caused by water. Birds have gotten into the building over time and have made a mess on the gym floor.
The old sixth-grade hallway and cafeteria are currently closed off because of water damage.
“The city has already approved to come in and just patch the roofing until we can have a more permanent solution. We got a bid to replace a good part of the roofing and that’s going to be about $200,000. Now that was back in the summer, so, obviously, the longer we wait, the more expensive it’s going to be,” Harris said.
“As Robert and I began to talk about a vision for doing bigger and better things with our after-school program, it seemed the one thing we lacked was space and a facility to do those kinds of things.
“Luckily for us the City of Martin purchased it, and that was because of an outcry from the citizens saying we need to preserve this building, and so we partnered with the city. This is something that our community needs, so we are going to do everything we can to accomplish that,” Harris added.
Time and money are resources desperately needed to help complete the project. Harris added that the gym inside the school is the “gem” of the entire building right now. Another project inside the school is to work on the restrooms so they function properly again.
Final decisions have not been made yet over the future use of the building, but ideas for the facility seem very exciting right now. The
Crossroads Teen Center is an organization that needs the space for its after-school program.
Other ideas were mentioned such as a possible museum as a home to preserve the history of the City of Martin. The possibilities are endless, but, at this time, the resources are not.
A fund has been established to allow interested citizens to contribute financially towards the cause.
“People can make a deposit in the ‘Old Martin Middle School Fund’ at First State Bank in Martin to show their support for this community wide effort” Harris said
“We will also be posting workday opportunities on our website – martinhousing.org – where the community can get involved in the cleanup process.”
“This project is not a Martin Housing Authority or City of Martin project. If it’s going to be successful, it’s going to be a true community effort, where we all get involved and invest our time and other resources to make the dream a reality.”