On a Wednesday afternoon during which most UGA graduate students could be found in a classroom, one group in the Building Materials Conservation class is in east Athens, at an old school from the 19th century.

The graduate class, which focuses on historic preservation, divides the students into groups, who then get to work on different community preservation projects.

This particular group is working on the Belmont Road School, which dates back to 1904, when the property was sold to the Athens-Clarke County Board of Education and was first used as a school.

The objective of this class is for the students to create an in-depth document called a historic structure report, which includes information about the condition of the property, the materials used, and a recommendation for restoration of the property.  

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Students from the Historic Preservation class at UGA work together to aid in the conservation of local historic sites that have been neglected or are in a state of disrepair. This type of hands-on project not only benefits the community, but also provides real-world experience for graduate students who are about to enter into the workforce.  


Shelley Cannady, an associate professor in the College of Environment and Design said, “Students really get a lot of value with community projects. It gives them a sense of importance and then it becomes more than just school work.  It can be frustrating to be studying to be in a profession and then not being able to do that work. Students like to get their hands dirty.”

The Belmont School dates back to the mid-19th century, when a man named William Morton owned the land that the old school is on now. William Morton had a son named James, who he sold the land to in 1896. in 1904, when James was 34 years old, he sold the land to the Athens-Clarke County Board of Education, which is the same year the school is presumed to have been built. Taken in Athens, Georgia, on October 18, 2018. (Photo by Lydia Megdal)


Evelyn Mera and Mills Dorn are two graduate students working on the Belmont Road School project for their Building Materials Conservation class for the semester. Mera is pursuing a master’s in landscape architecture, and Dorn is pursuing a master’s in historic preservation. Sherrie Raleigh, another student in their group working on the project said, “We are writing a historic structure report, which is basically doing all the research on it… we’re measuring the whole thing, we essentially create a whole work up of the house. We write up all the materials used, the condition they are in, and make a recommendation for what can be done to restore the building. It’s a fully detailed report on the structure, which will be presented to whoever buys the property.” Taken in Athens, Georgia, on October 18, 2018. (Photo/Lydia Megdal)


Dorn uses a hammer to open up the old school building, which has to be nailed shut every time they work on it to prevent additional damage. “The hands on preservation work is what I want to do when I graduate, so this Building Materials Preservation class has been my favorite so far. I get to go out and do hands on work, which is really helpful to me,” said Dorn. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (photo/Lydia Megdal)


The building has been unused for a long time and has been repeatedly vandalized and broken in to. “The bones of this place are in pretty good condition. Of course there’s work to be done, water damage, termite damage and all of the trash, but the structure is solid,” said Dorn. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (photo/Lydia Megdal)


Mera draws a quick illustration of the layout of the school, while Dorn calls out different measurements to her. “My part is to create the layout for the floor plans using a technology called AutoCAD. So that’s why we’re in here measuring everything, because we’re going to record all of this information and create a historic document for the structure. So whoever buys this place next, they’ll have all of this information in case they want to restore it,” said Mera. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (Photo/Lydia Megdal)


The school is filled with old furniture and trash, which makes it difficult for the students to measure the interiors. “This particular structure is in bad shape, and if something isn’t done about it soon, it will reach the point where it’s too far gone, and it would have to be bulldozed. “We were brought in because it is at this critical point, where if we can get a structure report done with recommendations about what to do in the future, maybe someone will buy it and want to restore it. It’s an important part of Clarke County’s history, and so when we went into this project, it was important to us that this rural school was paid attention to, so maybe we could maybe shed light on its significance,” said Raleigh. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (photo/Lydia Megdal)


Local records show that in 1929, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Education sold the property to Maggie Davenport, who used the building as a residence. She then passed on the home to her son Elijah, and since then it’s been bought and sold several times. The property is up for sale again, and Raleigh, Dorn and Mera are hoping someone will buy it and restore the property. “We want to save as much of the structure as possible, but obviously you have to replace rotted or damaged materials. It’ll be a lot of work. I hope someone will want to preserve this place,” said Raleigh. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (photo/Lydia Megdal)


Dorn crawls under the school to measure the length and height of the stone pillars that make up the foundation of the home. “Preservation and history go hand in hand, so working on and preserving old buildings really interests me. The historical techniques that were used are so interesting… people took a lot more pride in their craftsmanship back in the day, so getting to see that historical aspect in preservation is very cool,” said Dorn. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (photo/Lydia Megdal)


Mera checks her measurements of the foundation before finishing up for the day. “I think hands on projects are so helpful, because this is how we get experience in the field. I think that getting out here, taking into consideration all the imperfections of the house, measuring everything, this is what prepares us for our future careers,” said Mera. Taken in Athens, Georgia on October 18, 2018. (photo/Lydia Megdal)


Lydia Megdal is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. 


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