HEFLIN — More than 100 people huddled under a white tent to escape the oppressive September sun in front of the old Cleburne County High School on Friday morning for a ceremony which will turn the former school into an assisted living facility.
The ceremony saw ground broken for the transformation of the school itself and for a new 16-bed facility for residents with dementia, according to Heflin’s economic developer Tanya Maloney.
The old school — constructed in 1936 — will be named Hillside Village and will feature 42 beds for residents. When operating, the facility is expected to create about 35 jobs.
The school closed in 1984 and was later bought by the Casey family. Beverly Casey spoke on behalf of the family and said that over the years the old school has been a church, auction house, antique mall, consulting business and other ventures.
“To say that this building holds a lot of memories and a lot of history is an understatement,” Casey said as the sound of hammers from roofers echoed in the old school yard.
Casey went down memory lane to recall what the school was like years ago and the indelible impressions it has left.
“I was the last seventh-grade class to enter this building when they built the new structure. This building has been a centerpiece for this community for many, many years and a lot of activity revolved around it,” said Casey.
“There’s certain sounds, certain smells, certain sights this building evokes,” Casey said.
Casey recalled the multiple layers of floor treatment used on the wooden floors and the smell that “would just hit you when you opened the door into the room.”
She recalled also “the sound of the squeaky windows when you would open them because it was so hot you couldn't breathe in the building.”
In winter, students were treated to “the sounds of the pipes rattling as the boiler in the basement heated up and sent the heat up into the upper part of the facility into the radiators to try to provide warmth,” she said.
Casey recalled the names of past teachers and administrators including the assistant principal, Jesse Montgomery, who successfully helped integrate the school when the all-black Heflin Training School closed in 1969 and merged with the high school.
“We come to this building today to see it ushered into a new era and it’s such a special thing,” Casey said.
“To have this wonderful facility that’s going to house people in it that possibly walked these halls is such a treasure to this community,” said Casey.
County Commissioner Emmett Owen said before the ceremony that he attended the high school in the 1970s and that it’s a good thing to rejuvenate the building to house senior citizens.
“We do have a base of senior citizens that need a place like this, maybe out in the county that are looking to come in closer to town to have the facilities close by,” Owen said as he took refuge under a shade tree before the ceremony.
“It’s a real need that we have,” he said.
Cleburne County Hospital Board member Sandy Weston said she attended the high school in the ’50s. The hospital board oversees the Cleburne County Nursing home and Cleburne County EMS.
“I think this is going to be the most fabulous thing because it’s going to be able to be a feeder to our nursing home,” Weston said before the ceremony.
Weston said there are no assisted living facilities in Cleburne County.
Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks said the transformation of the old school is a “monumental project.”
“It’s so rewarding that we can take an old structure like this that holds so much meaning to our citizens and our community and the history that it has — we’re able to take it and repurpose it to some and salvage it,”
Heflin city clerk Shane Smith said the facility should be open in 9 to 12 months.