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Bealsville's Glover School coming back to life

BEALSVILLE — Gone are the peeling clapboards and broken and boarded windows.

The historic Glover School, once dormant and gray, is starting to resemble its original 1933 appearance. Newly restored casement windows and glass panes have been hung. Freshly whitewashed tongue-and-groove siding has replaced the old, dingy clapboards.

In this compact neighborhood southeast of Plant City, once the epicenter for a fledgling group of freed slaves, a project of painstaking proportions is taking shape: The restoration of the community's old wooden school building to its pre-World War II luster.

The one-story building, the oldest of five structures on the tiny campus, sits about 50 yards off Horton Road, rimmed by live oaks and metal fencing to ward off vandals.

Most of the exterior work is finished, including two wheelchair ramps and a two-car concrete landing for the handicapped. Workers are now tending to the interior: doorways, trim and new electrical and plumbing.

"It's getting there," said Henry Davis of Bealsville Inc., the community group that pushed for restoration.

When finished, the schoolhouse will contain a museum chronicling Bealsville's history from its founding by freed slaves in 1865 through construction of the Glover School and the recent history.

•••

Funded partly by ice cream sales, fish fries and musical shows, the Glover School was constructed on 10 acres donated by Ben Glover, who requested the school be named after his father, William.

The structure contained two classrooms, a library, an office and a cafeteria. Over the years, four more buildings were added to the site. The campus closed in 1980 amid integration reforms that saw much of its enrollment bused outside of the community.

Davis, 71, who attended the Glover School, couldn't say for sure when the restoration will be finished. Neither could Hills­borough County's Affordable Housing Office, which is overseeing the work. One Bealsville official said organizers are aiming to open the museum by May. A worker at the job site said most of the restoration will be finished in a few weeks.

There's no denying the project is miles away from where it was 10 years ago, when Bealsville and the Affordable Housing Office sought federal help to restore the site.

The groups received two Community Development Block Grants — a $316,900 grant in 2005 and a $423,400 grant in 2007.

Even with cash in hand, though, the community was forced to wait four more years before starting work.

During the time of the holdup, in 2010, the Affordable Housing Office blamed the federal government, saying it was slow in approving the restoration plan. Work finally commenced early last year.

•••

Now Bealsville leaders and others in the community are learning a new lesson, that the project is more painstaking than initially envisioned. What was expected to take about a year is looking more like two years.

Reasons abound for the extended timetable, including new building codes that didn't exist 80 years ago when the structure was built and new federal regulations that mandate wheelchair access to the site.

"When dealing with historical buildings, you never know what you're going to see when you start removing boards," said Gwen Thomas, who chairs Bealsville Inc.'s restoration committee.

Among other things, organizers learned the foundation was crumbling and needed to be replaced, that an aging sceptic tank needed to be removed, that hurricane straps needed to be added, and that the weather-damaged exterior clapboards likely contained lead paint and would need to be stripped or replaced altogether. They chose to replace them, Davis said.

•••

The crumbling foundation posed a wholly unique challenge. The entire structure needed to be jacked up, so workers could climb underneath to knock out the old brick pilings and add new concrete ones.

"They had to lift the building and get in there and dig down," Davis said.

The electrical and plumbing needed to be brought up to code, and though the original schoolhouse lacked air conditioning, it was added to make museum visitors comfortable and to protect documents and artifacts.

It seemed the further the project went, the more work was required to complete it.

Thomas likened the project to a home renovation.

"At the beginning, the contractor says you'll be back in your house in December and then comes back and says you'll be back in June," she said.

•••

The Bealsville leaders say there is enough grant money to cover the project's cost and that the end is in sight. From the outside, the building looks nearly complete, with a shiny metal roof, crisp white siding and green trim.

"This is important," said Thomas. "It's important to document our history. The focus of the museum will be on the individuals that founded this community, the 12 families. The focus is on those families and their descendants. We're all anxious to get this completed."

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Bealsville's Glover School coming back to life 11/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 4:30am]
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