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Fair Street community breaks ground on new school
Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer welcomes guests this morning to the groundbreaking ceremony at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

It's time for the mighty Tigers of Fair Street School to roar again.

With demolition set for Jan. 26 and the completion date some time next December, the school is ready to come back home, Principal William Campbell said.

Dozens of students, faculty, alumni and community members turned out this morning to watch members of the Gainesville school board break ground on the new Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

"Today marks the end and the beginning of the new structure that will rest on this sacred ground, this sacred land, a land that has been part of this community for so long," said Deborah Mack, former Hall County commissioner and Fair Street alumna. "We are proud of the roots established here. ... This groundbreaking is special because it continues the connectivity with the past as well as the future."

Mack, along with Fair Street fourth-grader Quincy Holcomb, 9, and Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and mother of two Fair Street alumni, spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The school board chose to host the ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a symbolic gesture, which Dunlap said made sense: he stood for unity and community, two qualities associated with the 75-year-old Fair Street School.

The new building features a heritage hall near the front entrance to highlight the building's history, along with those of the school's predecessors: E.E. Butler High School, which closed in 1969, and Summer Hill High School, which was demolished in 1936 after the tornado. Fair Street served as a school for various grade levels and as a community meeting place for generations, but the building is showing its age.

Teachers and administrators would get to school early when it rained to mop up puddles that had already accumulated. They watched their beloved school crumble around them, covering stacks of books and computers with plastic bags to protect them from damage and dealing with a sinking subfloor that warped the halls.

"Fair Street started because Mother Nature in 1936 destroyed the school that was here, and here we are in 2012 because Mother Nature has destroyed this building," School Board Chairman Willie Mitchell said.

In March 2011, a 1-cent special local option sales tax was approved to fund a new Fair Street, one with a solid foundation and ceiling.

"One year ago today, here we were, Deborah Mack, Delores (Diaz) and Merrianne (Dyer) and Willie (Mitchell), the whole team trying to assure the citizens of Gainesville and Hall County would pass this education SPLOST mainly to build this school," Dunlap said.

And pass it did: $19 million of the estimated $130 million will be put toward the new home for the Fair Street Tigers.

"I'm excited beyond words," media specialist Amy Hamilton said. "My head is at the Open House for this new building, and I see all these people coming inside and we're all just ooh-ing and aah-ing. We can't wait."

Even though he won't be in elementary school by the time Fair Street reopens its doors, Holcomb expects to learn all about it from his little brother, who will continue the family legacy of being Tigers.

In his mind, Fair Street's mission of being a community school will continue, no matter how new its brick façade is. 

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