Restoration work on Lee County's Tharp building is under way

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Sep. 1—LEESBURG — Rain bands from Hurricane Ida saturated southwest Georgia on Tuesday. However, crews working for Midwest Maintenance Inc. were already dressed for the weather as they pressure-washed the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building in Leesburg.

On Aug. 24, the Board of Commissioners of Lee County entered into an agreement with Midwest to, "repair and restore the 100-year-old historic Lee County High School building to its former glory." The work will include chemically cleaning the masonry exterior, brick removal and replacement, repointing mortar, sealant joint replacement, and replacing joint and window seals.

"The project will take about four months at a cost of $575,608, with the funding coming from SPLOST 7 funds," Lee County Manager Christi Dockery said. "Two of our commissioners, Billy Mathis and John Wheaton, graduated from the school."

The building is one of three structures in Lee County on the National Historic Register. The other two include the Lee Courthouse and the Leesburg Train Depot. Architecturally, the Tharp building is classified as a 19th- and 20th-century revival structure with influences of both Colonial Revival and Georgia Revival styles.

The original structure was a two-story brick building with cast concrete ornamentation. The interior of the main block is divided on each floor by a long central hallway with classrooms on each side and teachers lounges on either side of the entrances. The original flooring and much of the original brass hardware remain. An auditorium takes up the rear portion of the ground floor, and the balcony retains much of its original grandeur.

Prior to 1920, segregated schools were scattered across Lee County with many holding classes in community churches. In 1920, the Lee County School Board ordered that all white schools be consolidated into four school districts. Bonds were issued in each district for the construction of these schools. As a result, $65,000 was raised to construct a high school in Leesburg. As the community schools closed due to declining enrollment, students with no high school in their districts were transferred to the school in Leesburg. Later, the School Board would pass a resolution that designated the Lee County High School as the county high school for these students.

When the building was no longer utilized as a school, it was determined to be an excellent location to consolidate county services.

"We wanted to pull everybody together for the benefit of developers," Dockery said. "We moved in in 2009 after a few years of renovation."

At that time, the building was named in honor of T. Page Tharp, whose widow, Patricia "Pat" Tharp, said, "He was the love of my life, and he loved Lee County." She went on to recall some of his contributions to Lee County.

"He graduated from Lee County High School in 1947, went on to Emory University and served in the Korean Conflict," she said. "In 1952, he was appointed as Lee County Treasurer, filling the vacancy created by the death of his father, who had served in that capacity since 1918."

Tharp also served on the Lee County Board of Health, was the first Lee County Administrator, served as clerk of the Board of Commissioners of Lee County, as well as clerk of the Leesburg City Commission, Pat Tharp said. The Tharps also were instrumental in forming a committee that led to the publication of two books on Lee County: "A Train Runs Thru It" and "The Caboose Came Last."

Dockery said that while work is taking place on the Tharp building, the goal is to keep offices open and accessible to the public. Employees and visitors are asked to take notice of any temporary directional signage for safe access to the building.

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