Historic Calhoun Community Schoolhouse gets $5K grant from Columbia County to help with roof repairsby J.D. Bailey on 04/05/22
A piece of Columbia County rural history is getting a financial boost by way of the Columbia County government’s rural community aid grant program. Approved unanimously Monday by the Columbia County Quorum Court, the Calhoun Community Club, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and the Calhoun Rural Fire Department were awarded a $5,000 grant to help preserve and restore a Calhoun Community architectural staple.
Specifically, the community aid will go toward funding a new roof at the Harvey C. Couch Historical Four Room Schoo House in Calhoun. The 2385 Columbia Rd. 11 East building was built in 1928 by one of the county’s most influential and important former residents, Harvey C. Couch. It currently serves as a training center for the Calhoun Rural Fire Department, but repairs are needed at the 93-year-old community hub for it to once again become a centerpiece in the rural community.
In total, the schoolhouse requires around $14,000 in roofing repairs. The county’s $5,000 grant will help cover the costs associated with the project, but the remaining $9,000 will be covered from the Calhoun Community Club’s savings account, according to the nonprofit. The Columbia County Rural Community Grant program operates via a special carveout in county tax collections. The program is intended to help underfunded rural communities in the county. Rural community aid grants are typically used to help purchase equipment and make repairs at rural fire departments and training areas in the county.
According to the Calhoun Community Club president, Jim Nicholson, the Couch Schoolhouse building needs quite a few repairs, but the cap of the structure requires the most immediate attention.
“We’re trying slowly to get to all the repair needs, but the roof is very important,” he said. “It’s 20 years old now.”
In a request letter to Columbia County Judge Denny Foster, Jim explained the Calhoun Community Club’s role and why the National Historic Registry site is beneficial to his small rural community.
“The purpose of the Club is to preserve the Harvey C. Couch Four Room Schoolhouse,” he wrote. “ ... The school has been donated to the families of the Calhoun Community.”
The Calhoun Community Club, which was founded in 1959, was previously issued a roof replacement quote of $13,470 for the roof repairs, but, that was six months ago, and prices have likely risen, according to Jim.
“It is anticipated that the contractor will want to update his quote,” said the club president’s letter to the county judge.
Once the roofing repairs are made, the Calhoun nonprofit will look to address the remaining infrastructure needs at the historic site. The group hopes that the Couch Schoolhouse can soon become a center for the small community once again, and that the Columbia Rd. 11 location will be able to host a variety of local celebrations and gatherings, including anniversaries, birthdays, and reunions.
The Couch Schoolhouse is also significant for its namesake, Harvey C. Couch, who was born in the Calhoun Community in 1877. The Columbia County native founded Arkansas Power and Light in 1913 and is widely considered a key figure in bringing electricity to much of rural Arkansas, as well as parts of Louisiana, and Mississippi during the early 1900s. Couch was also involved in early telephone systems in the state, according to the Calhoun Community Club.
To give back to his birthplace, the visionary businessman funded the construction of the Calhoun Community schoolhouse in 1928. By the 1940s, the property was turned over to the Magnolia Public School District. Demolition of the building was planned, but Calhoun Community efforts blocked the razing of the structure by obtaining status for the location on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Jim’s wife, Julie Nicholson, who is also involved with the Calhoun Community Club, elaborated on the scope of work needed at the schoolhouse.
“It just needs repairs,” she said. “ … Our goal is to get it up to code to be able to use regularly.”
Julie noted that some state grant monies may be available to help with the repairs as well, and those will have to be looked into further, but the group and the community are just grateful for the county's aid issued this week.
“We need to re-do the windows, and the door entrances, and some plumbing,” she added, “but this ($5,000 rural community aid grant) is such a great start.”