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East County Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017 2 years ago

Myakka City Historic School House receives $100,000 grant

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Selby Foundation helps the historic school rebuild.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Myakka City's Marilyn Coker sliced open the envelope Dec. 2 and looked at the number on the check.

"I've never seen a check with so many zeroes," she said.

After a 25-year battle, the Myakka City Historic School House is going to be completely renovated and reopened to the public.

Coker, the president of the Myakka City Historical Society, announced the $100,000 grant from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation Dec. 5 to help fund the final phase of restoration of the Myakka City Historic School House.

The thought of restoring the building began in 1992 when Coker was vice president of the Historical Society and Emily Putnal, a former school principal, was president. Putnal did not live long enough to see the project completed. Coker has been president of the Myakka City Historical Society since 1999.

Over the years, fundraising efforts in the community helped to move the building and renovate the exterior, but was never enough to completely restore the building to a state where it could serve as a community center.

The $100,000 Selby grant, along with matching funds from the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department, Mosaic and several Myakka City residents and businesses, totaled the $293,400 needed to complete the restoration of the 5,500 square foot building.

To celebrate, the 81-year-old Coker called a meeting to begin planning the construction. "We're not Champaign people here," she said.

Bonnie Carlton, a Myakka City Historical Society board member, said she was shocked Coker didn't cry after opening the check. After all, Coker had said if the money eventually came through she would "disintegrate into a puddle."

"Everyone around here knows she has such a soft heart," Carlton said.

If anyone deserved to shed some tears of joy, it would be Coker, the town's retired postmaster.

"This news is so exciting for Myakka," said County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "It is such a big part of their history and they've spent so many years trying to get this accomplished. I can't fathom the love in (Coker's) heart to keep this going."

Carol Butera, the executive director of the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, called Coker's commitment "remarkable."

Coker, who enrolled at the school in third grade in 1945, had to withstand a lot of heartache over the years as attempts to fund the total renovation of the school failed. The latest came in May when the state legislature passed an $83 billion budget along to Gov. Rick Scott without the Myakka City Historic School House project which was in line for a $246,319 grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation.

It was listed as the No. 34 project on the Special Category Grant list and Baugh said legislators had assured her the project would be funded. It wasn't.

The Myakka City Historical Society board was dismayed, but not defeated.

"Ain't that a kick in the teeth," was how Carlton described their feelings.

Nonetheless, they continued to work, and the William G. and Maria Selby Foundation, which had previously awarded $50,000 to the cause, came through.

"We looked at the sustainability of their project, and they have worked on that throughout," Butera said. "What we valued is their commitment to the future. This building can hold a library, educational programs, community events, and it's growth-based. And it's a building that holds history."

William Selby owned land just outside Myakka City and had a fondness for the area. Butera said that also figured into the foundation's decision.

The Myakka City Historical Society hopes to have the building open by November.

The renovation will allow the building to house an auditorium, kitchen, museum, library, computer lab and classrooms. The Historical Society plans to use the auditorium to host concerts, weddings, meetings, reunions and other special events.

Coker said she won't take a rest now the financial pieces have been assembled. "We still have a lot of work to do," she said. 

The board first wants to find a storage for all the furniture and materials currently in the building. Then wiring has to be done for a fire alarm system and media. Then comes the insulation.

Contractors will take up the flooring in the auditorium and kitchen and patch the classrooms and hallways. "We're going to try to recycle every stick of this building," Carlton said.

The floors in the auditorium and kitchen will be new material. Paint off the walls will be examined to determine the original colors.

"I think (the interior) was a light green when I came," Coker said. "Then I think they painted it tan."

The goal is to host an open house in November.

"This is going to tie the community together and we will have a central meeting place," said Walter Carlton, the project manager for the Myakka City Historic School House. "I remember being a little kid, before we had a TV, and we used to go to the auditorium on Saturday nights to watch a movie. Now we can have something like that again. We're going to do a lot of things there."

Walter Carlton (Bonnie is married to his brother, Dan) said the Myakka City Historic School House once was a "Strawberry School" during the time his parents, Brian and Irene Carlton, were students there.

"At a Strawberry School, you would let the kids out during the harvesting season in the spring and they would go to school longer in the summer," he said. 

Elliott Falcione, the executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in May the renovation of the Myakka City School House carries value for the county in terms of tourism.

The first step in the interior renovation will be to store all the items currently in the building.

"It's going to help us develop East County," Falcione said. "We need to cluster tourism assets out east. It's not about the schoolhouse by itself. We have to create a trail, for a half-day or a full-day outing. You also have the Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions, Bearadise and Dakin Dairy Farms." 

Coker said she stuck to the task for a quarter of a century because so many people in the community had donated funds to the project and she didn't want to see those funds wasted.

She couldn't name all those who gave, but noted that Dakin Dairy Farms was always quick to help with a truck when needed and that Gabriella Herrmann of Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions kept the project alive with many monetary donations over the years.

Carlton said she can't wait to see people admiring the stage at the open house.

"The stage seems to trigger a lot of memories," she said. "People turn and look at that stage and they have to go up on it. 'Oh my goodness, it's so small.'

"Well, they were little when they were on it."

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