Project manager says another $75,000 needed to complete restoration of Myakka City landmark.
Marilyn Coker already has purchased the cantata — the "Seven Last Words of Christ."
Coker, 85, still plays the piano at both the Myakka City United Methodist Church and the Myakka City Baptist Church, but she is looking toward Easter to play the music — not at the church, but at the Myakka City Historic School House.
And not this Easter, but Easter 2023.
Coker has been working since 1993 on the school's renovation project, which has been spread over the years while the small community tries to raise the funds — now almost $1 million — to reopen the 5,500-square-foot school house that was built in 1914.
Besides holding important historical value to the community, the intention of the Myakka City Historical Society is to use the venue as a community center, a museum and even a library if the Manatee County library system is willing to help.
Although 29 years has been a grueling haul for those who have worked on the renovation, hopes in the community have risen because only a final $75,000 separates the schoolhouse from opening its doors. But it's $75,000 they don't have.
The current project manager for the renovation is Walter Carlton, whose family has been connected to the community for more than 100 years. His great-grandfather, Marian Carlton, was one of the founders of what has become the United Methodist Church in town. Carlton tells the story of how his great-grandfather used to come to the school house and say it's a good day to sing gospel music. And the students would sing.
Carlton, who is 72, also notes that his father, Brian Carlton, graduated on the school's auditorium stage in 1941. And like Coker, he also attended the school.
Carlton confirms that $75,000 should wrap things up, and he said he could finish all the work rather quickly if he has the funds. The biggest piece of the puzzle remaining is $28,000 for the air conditioning system. That needs to be done before the finishing touches can be completed on the flooring.
Almost all the flooring has been put down by Freedom Flooring. Coker said the company has done "a wonderful job." The old auditorium flooring was used to repair the other floors around the building while the auditorium floor was replaced with reclaimed heart pine.
Getting the final funds could take time. The fundraising drive will begin March 20 when Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions hosts a fundraiser for the project.
That fundraiser has been an annual event, but it appeared to be in jeopardy when Gabby Herrmann, the owner of Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions, died March 13, 2021. The event has raised as much as $16,000 for the project in the past, but the past few years attendance at the event had declined.
Rebecca McCullough, who has taken over the stallions from her mom not only decided to keep the event but has also made it even bigger. For the first time, the event will include whip crackers, Spanish dancers, circus performers, reining horses, kids events and a violinist. Besides the history of the horses, McCullough will talk about the history of the community. Adults are asked to give a $20 donation.
"This event helps us a great deal and it is totally different this year after we lost Gabby," Coker said. "Rebecca has put together a nice show. She has stepped up as the leader of her family."
Others have stepped up as well to help the renovation project.
In December 2017, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation announced a $100,000 grant to help with the restoration.
Manatee County has supported the project, providing the Myakka City Historical Society with $50,000 from its Community Services Department in 2021. The Bradenton Area Convention and Tourist Bureau previously had given $50,000 toward the project. Mosaic gave $75,000 for the new roof.
But there have been disappointment as well. The project appeared to be in line for a $246,319 grant from the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation in 2017 when it was listed as its No. 34 preservation project in the state. Instead, the project was cut from the state's $83 billion budget signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.
Despite the long wait, Coker remains confident everything is going to come together in the next year. Once the air conditioning is finished, the floors, catering kitchen, bathrooms and fire alarm system need to be finished. All the plumbing, electrical and insulation has been finished.
Although the community has donated much volunteer labor, Carlton said the work now all needs to be done by the skill trades.
"The series of finishes at the end is sometimes the slowest part," Coker said. "It's been so long, but we are patiently waiting. This is a service (a place to host events) the community never has enjoyed."
Besides being patient, Coker also is hopeful. While she has music for an Easter 2023 opening, she also has purchased the cantata "Blue Grass Rhapsody" just in case the building, which can host up to 150 people for events, is open by Christmas.
"When I retired from the Post Office in 1999, they gave me rose-colored glasses," she said. "People tease me. They say I see the world through rose-colored glasses."
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