AI - Norman Bratton, who graduated from Fulton High School in this crossroads community, is a man on a mission: He wants to find a new tenant for the building where he attended classes for a dozen years.
Mr. Bratton, class of 1945, doesn't want to see the building mothballed or, worse yet, demolished. It will be vacated by students and staff in several months when Evergreen Local School District's new elementary school opens.
"So far there hasn't been any interest from anyone," he said. He and others in the Fulton Alumni Association likely attended their last annual meeting and banquet May 1 at the school that houses 290 preschool through fifth-grade students.
Although the school will be history soon, the association plans to continue meeting each year. Mr. Bratton said officials in the Evergreen school district have told him that the association can meet in another school in the district. "It won't be the same," he said.
For nearly 100 years, the school has been the heart of Ai, the tiny two-letter town that at one time boasted a grist mill, a cider mill, a sawmill, two blacksmith shops, wagon factories, drug stores, a post office, a general store, a cheese factory, a millinery shop, saloons, and a cobbler's shop.
Today you can't buy a bottle of beer or a loaf of bread here. Ai - it is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled, and is spelled exactly how it is pronounced - no longer has any businesses. There are a few homes, a church, a cemetery, the Fulton Township hall, a mobile home park, and the school.
Mr. Bratton isn't the only one concerned about the future of the school building. Many of those attending the recent 96th annual Fulton Alumni Association's event expressed concerns about the school. Mr. Bratton takes pride in noting that 231 people came back to the school for the activities. The school, he said, obviously means a lot to many people. The first graduating class was in 1908.
Arlene Stoup, class of 1955, said she would hate to see the building hit by the wrecking ball. It was her home-away-from-home for many years, and she possibly has spent more time in the school than anyone else - she attended classes here for 12 years and then worked there for 31 years, retiring in 1998. She has other close connections to the school. Her father went to school in Ai, and she married her high school sweetheart Bob Stoup. Out of the 17 seniors that year, there were three girls and three boys who paired into couples and were married, she said.
Today some former Fulton students have grandchildren enrolled in the school, said Darlene Walter, the school's secretary, who said she will be reluctant to move to the new building. "I am going to miss the school and everyone here. We're like a big family," she said.
Fulton stidemts likely will be in the new school in January, said Evergreen Superintendent Kenneth Jones. The building will house prekindergarten through sixth-grade classes, bringing together students from the district's elementary schools, Lyons and Fulton.
The nearly $10 million school is located near the middle school and the high school building.
No decisions have been made yet on the future of the Lyons and Fulton buildings. District officials are exploring options on the fate of a now-vacant middle school in Metamora. Students from that building are housed in the middle school on the district's campus along Fulton County Road 6.
Officials in the village of Metamora are investigating whether the village could take over the building, Mr. Jones said. No formal proposal has been presented yet by the village to the school board, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bratton will continue his efforts to find someone interested in keeping the building open. Active in the Fulton County Community Improvement Corporation, he has alerted CIC members about the soon-to-be vacated structure. "Everyone is aware of that, but still nothing has happened," he said.
The building possibly could be purchased by someone interested in converting the building into a business, such as a craft shop, he said.
"We don't want to see the building mothballed. We don't want to see it go to rack and ruin. We hope someone will be interested in it."
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