- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

OAK RIDGE, La. (AP) - When Joe Rolfe gazes at the majestic former Oak Ridge High School building, you can almost see his memories flashing across his mind.

“I used to sit on those steps at recess and flirt with the girls,” Rolfe said, chuckling.

“I realize now I grew up in Mayberry,” he said, referring to the idyllic town in “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Though Oak Ridge High School has been closed since 1969, a victim of consolidation, the building from the outside looks as if its ready for the bell to ring in classes for the day.

That’s because the late Clarke M. Williams, founder of CenturyLink, bought the vacant building and spent about $2 million restoring it until he died in 2002.

Even Williams wasn’t sure what he planned to do with the building once he completed restoration, his son-in-law Harvey Perry said.

“When I asked him, he looked at me in a way that told me not to ask him again,” Perry said, laughing.

The Williams family, after acting as caretaker by paying property taxes and providing insurance since the patriarch’s death, is now offering to give the building to anyone who will place it into commerce and complete its restoration.

“They haven’t given us a deadline - they’ve been very generous - but we really need to find someone who can put jobs here this year,” said Rolfe, a 1968 Oak Ridge High graduate who has taken it upon himself to market the building.

Otherwise, Williams’ daughters and Oak Ridge grads Carolyn Perry and Annette Carroll, will ultimately demolish it.

“The family would love to see the facility finished and to find someone who could enhance its value to the community and continue what Mr. Williams started as a labor of love,” Perry said. “The last thing the family wants to do its tear it down. But frankly, if we can’t find anyone who wants it, the family doesn’t want to see it deteriorate and become a liability.”

Oak Ridge High School, with its signature four towering white columns, is located just off of Louisiana Highway 133, minutes from Rolfe’s house on the same highway. Rolfe said when a referendum was offered in 1919 to build the school, it received unanimous support.

“Not a single no vote,” he said.

The building was completed in 1925 and graduated its first class in 1926.

“I think it’s one of the handsomest buildings in all of northeastern Louisiana,” Rolfe said.

But the 22,000-square-foot, four-level former school is also located in an ultra-rural area of Morehouse Parish, the biggest impediment to marketing the building to a company or business.

Rolfe points out that facility is within 15 “light traffic” miles away from Bastrop, Rayville and Mer Rouge, just 12 miles from Interstate 20 and 30 miles from Monroe, the region’s commercial hub.

He’s discussed partnering with the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development to place a rural health clinic within the building, which is a possibility, but officials told him even then he must have private tenants to create an ongoing revenue stream.

Inside, the building has been stripped mostly to the studs, an advantage to a new owner who can build it out as he or she sees fit. A new elevator is in place to carry traffic to each floor.

Rolfe met with an unidentified prospect for the building last week, and says he won’t give up on his old school until the very end.

“I love the building and respect the chance that Mr. Williams and his family has given our community,” Rolfe said. “I think of it as a testament to him, and if it doesn’t work out, I want to make sure it’s not because I didn’t do everything I could possibly do to save it.”


Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

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