Macon County Commissioners are moving forward with plans to transform the old Cowee School into a cultural heritage center for the community.
Last Tuesday, the Macon County Board of Commissioners approved $69,448 to be allocated over a nine and a half month period to contract with Stacy Guffey to coordinate the project and to provide additional supplies and furnishings to help get the project started.
Because of his continued dedication and involvement with the Cowee School, Guffey was hired as the coordinator for the project. The nine and a half month contract will pay Guffey $27,000, or $3,000 per month. Guffey's contract includes the business plan developed by Guffey for the old Cowee School property that designated the school as the Macon County Heritage Center.
In addition to Guffey's contract, the county also approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, who has diligently worked to preserve the school and designate it as an historic landmark.
“This probably wouldn’t come to fruition with out the LTLT’s involvement. They have a big investment already in that community and are willing to help us even more. There’s a lot of anticipation about this project and what it can do.”
Beale informed commissioners that by approving the partnership with LTLT, the Heritage Center will be able to host events that have been held at the Rickman Store, but due to the max capacity and fire marshal regulations, are no longer allowed.
County Commissioner Bobby Kuppers agreed with Beale saying that one of the Rickman Store programs had already been moved to the gym at Cowee School due to the maximum occupancy of the store being only 26, and that the event was successful and should make the transition of future events smoother.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding, “Both Macon County and LTLT presently seek to preserve and enhance the Cowee School as a center of community life in Cowee and as a heritage-based economic development engine for the entire county. Both parties presently see the heritage center as playing a critical role in the revitalization and economic development of the Cowee-West's Mill Historic District and of Macon County as a whole.
The center's business plan outlines the purpose for creating the Macon County Heritage Center at the historic Cowee School to develop a community center and visitor destination that can benefit the county by serving as an educational, cultural, recreational and economic development resource.
The plan for the Heritage Center has been several years in the making in order to preserve the history of Macon County's oldest school, which opened its doors in 1941. The Heritage Center's business plan includes being funded by a mix of sources including private donations, fund raisers, county funds and grants. According to Guffey, although the project will need funding assistance for the first few years, eventually he anticipates the project will become self-sustaining by its third year with funds coming in from retail, rental, donations and grants.
During a facilities review committee between the Board of Education and the Macon County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night, Commissioner Ronnie Beale asked interim Superintendent Dr. Duncan what final steps needed to be taken to transfer the Cowee School property to the county.
“We have already gotten the locks changed and handed the keys over to the county manager,” said Duncan. “ We just need two classrooms to store some stuff, but other than that it is all yours.”
Dr. Duncan informed county commissioners that he would ask the school’s attorney to draft up the deed to make the property transfer official.