Miller offers a peek into Macon’s past and future

From 1959 to 1964 Marjorie Singly-Hall passed notes in study hall and ran up and down the stairs and hallways of A. L. Miller Senior High School. Many other students engaged in similar activities since the school’s establishment in 1932. Today, the school that was the academic home to girls of Bibb County is only a shadow of its once-thriving self.

The A. L. Miller building is not currently being used and is considered abandoned and in peril.

The 2007 Places in Peril Nomination for A. L. Miller Senior High states “[Miller] has been an icon and important educational center for the Winship Heights/Montpelier inner-city neighborhood since its construction.”

The school building is still considered structurally sound, and many believe that it should be saved and restored rather than demolished. “Its demolition would seriously impact the viability of the neighborhood and be a loss to the heritage of our city,” the nomination said.

To restore such a large building would require a great amount of funding.

“I want to say it was $11 million last time we looked at the rehabilitation of the building. You can guess that it will cost somewhere around a $100 a square foot, so it depends on how much of the campus you want to revitalize,” said Josh Rogers.

Rogers is the current executive director of Historic Macon and the new president and chief executive officer of NewTown Macon.

“Architecture, like any other art form, is extremely subjective, so it’s really difficult to come up with an objective way of measuring an individual building’s importance,” Rogers said. “When we’re looking at historic buildings and trying to figure out if it’s worth getting involved to cause preservation, the primary criteria is, ‘Is it eligible for the National Register, or is it already listed in the register?’”

The National Register of Historic Places is kept by the National Parks Service and is the official list of the nation’s places that are deemed worthy of preservation.                                 “Attending Miller had [its] challenges and rewards both socially and academically. Socially, there were three levels of student life: Greek life, the middle area student[s] and those students who were considered somewhat of an outcast,” said Miller graduate of ’67, Judith Ryan.

“My time at Miller was spent in the middle area where I made and still have three very close friends. The Greek world was somewhat arrogant, and the students who were considered outcasts came from homes in the mill villages. Looking back on my time at Miller, I see now that being in the middle was a safe place to be,” Ryan said.

Miller has stood in place for many decades and holds an important place in Macon’s history. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the students of Bibb County school system were faced with desegregating schools.

“The atmosphere at Miller was a microcosm of what was going on in the south in general,” said Ryan. “When Miller was desegregated my senior year, I was surprised that the students behaved with more dignity than the onlookers across the street. Perhaps it was apathy, or perhaps the women of Miller realized that desegregation was inevitable, so why make waves? Or maybe it was just teenage disinterest in anything other than dances, grades and boys,” said Ryan.

“We heard the ‘winds of change,’ but I do not think that any of us believed that it would actually change the school so significantly. We were more worried about the Vietnam War, as it was beginning to directly affect the young men we knew [who] were being required to register for the draft,” said Singly-Hall.

When the Bibb County’s schools faced court-ordered integration, the schools Lanier, Miller Junior and Millor Senior High were merged together to create the Central High School Complex. The schools were no longer segregated by race but remained segregated by sex until 1981.

As A. L. Miller came face-to-face with desegregation, many students accepted change and continued to act as any other teenage girl would. The main focus of Miller students was on grades, friends and boys. “Boy did we go crazy when Lanier boys in uniform walked down the halls,” said ’67 graduate Kay Lovejoy.

In 2007 the process of building a new Central High School began which would later leave A. L. Miller with limited use. Today the A. L. Miller school building is boarded up and vandalized.

“I think there are some very complicated equations that people go by and a lot of times they think that building new is cheaper than rehabilitating,” said Rogers. “In some ways, it is way more dependable. With a historic building, when you start the rehabilitation, you really can’t have a firm budget until you get it all opened up and look at what you’re dealing with.

“Unfortunately a lot of organizations, especially Boards of Education, that are working on a huge scale depend on the dependability of building new rather than entering into a more creative rehabilitation, even if rehabilitation would be less costly in the long run,” said Rogers.“I strongly feel that Miller High School is probably a financial mistake for the school board because it’s sitting there abandoned; it’s depressed the values of property around it so much it’s probably reduced revenue by way more than the amount the school board saved by building new.”

“I would love to see Miller become a specialized high school.  She sits there like the grand dame, alone and sad.  I think if the city of Macon as well as the Bibb County BOE would take up the banner of reviving her, there is a population large enough in numbers that could justify rehabbing Miller,” said Ryan.

Many considerations are being made over what can be done with the school. Rogers said that two plans have been floating around in the past two years, both considering using the building for low-income housing.

“So far there has been significant resistance and debate from public officials and the neighbors about whether that building should be restricted to low-income use or whether we should wait until such a time that it might be available for market rate use,” said Rogers.

“Until that debate’s resolved, I don’t know that anything is going to happen with it. It’s really a chicken or egg question,” said Rogers. “Do you fix the neighborhood, so you can do something market rate with the school? Or do you fix the school in hopes that you can do something market rate with the neighborhood?”

There is a federal program known as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program that can be used in addition to historic rehabilitation tax credits. With these two programs combined, it is possible that Macon can recover 50 percent of the costs of fixing the building, thus making the option of historic rehabilitation a great deal less expensive.

A. L. Miller Senior High School holds historical and sentimental value to the people of Macon. Many generations of women have walked through the now-abandoned halls and still hold the establishment in high esteem. “I look back now and realize that the woman I am now, in part, is due to the challenges and successes I experienced at A.L. Miller High School,” said Ryan.