Macon County Commissioners, Ronnie Beale and Bobby Kuppers, attended the Cowee Community Development Organization (CCDO) meeting at Cowee Elementary School on Tuesday, Jan. 24, to discuss what the county has in store for the school when it assumes ownership of the historic building this summer. The new Iotla Valley Elementary School will replace Cowee elementary next school year.
The two Democratic commissioners, along with Macon County EDC Director, Tommy Jenkins, briefed CCDO members about what the ownership transfer entailed, and what has to happen if the county is going to make the historic building a viable investment. “You know as well as I do that the people in this community are the nucleus of this project,” said Commissioner Beale. “Without your help and dedication, this would go nowhere,” he said while thanking them for their past efforts.
Beale told CCDO members that the project would need a considerable amount of investment from the Cowee community if it was going to work. “That’s what grant donor’s look for,” he said. Beale and Kuppers told CCDO members that a joint effort from multiple organizations and agencies was critical if the venture is going to be successful. The county will have to pay the utility bill, maintenance costs, and insurance when they assume ownership, said Beale. “So we have to come up with some strategies to get this thing going so it can produce a sustainable income,” he said.
Commissioners approved $12,000 to assist CCDO and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) to develop a long-term business plan for the project, as well as to conduct a survey and environmental study. Stacey Guffey, with the LTLT, will put the business plan together, with help from EDC Director Tommy Jenkins. The business plan will enable the county, the LTLT, and CCDO to apply for grant funding from a variety of organizations. “Grant monies are hard to come by these days. Most public funds from the fed and state have dried up, so the grant application process is even more important. Everything has to be right on,” said Beale about the economic development project.
Commissioners want to preserve the building for historical and aesthetic purposes, and all five board members agreed that the school is a unique part of Cowee’s distinct culture and heritage. Guffey and Beale noted that they will seek funding from the Eastern Band of Preservation Foundation after the business plan is complete, as the tribe has historic ties to the Cowee community dating back to the pre-Columbus era.
Guffey said that the LTLT would be seeking funds from private donors in the near future, to help offset the reduction in government grants. Furthermore, according to Guffey, Western Carolina University is showing an interest in helping Macon County finance the project. Guffey added that the National Trust for Historic Foundation may be able to dole out some funds for the project as well, an encouraging sign to the people who hope to preserve the structure for future generations “We’re also working on getting some funding from the rural center to work on the property between the Rickman Store and the school,” said Guffey to CCDO members last Tuesday.
Tommy Jenkins told commissioners and CCDO members that Senators Hagan and Burr’s office will help with providing assistance for the project. Jenkins met with representatives from both offices this past month in regards to preserving the school.
Before the meeting ended, CCDO members expressed their ideas about forming a non-profit organization this summer, and other efforts to accumulate funds to help the county pay for taking the school back from the Macon County Board of Education. “We could have a mass mailing effort to everyone who lives in the Cowee community,” said one CCDO member. “I know that really helped the fire department raise some money,” he said.
There is a lot of things the school can be used for, and the project is still in its prelimary stages. The business plan that will be finalized by June. 30 will paint a better picture about what direction the county needs to go in. Beale expressed more ideas about the project to the group, saying that he could envision a wide array of uses for the school. “I can see the county’s free health clinic being held at this school once or twice a week,” he said. A variety of options are on the table