The bricks of Milton Berryhill School can be repurposed as a historical homage

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More than two months after the historic Berryhill Elementary School was destroyed by fire, the building is slated for demolition.

Even with the building’s demise imminent, some in the Milton community are looking for a strategy to ensure the building’s history is not lost entirely.

Tom Powers, the chair of the city’s planning committee, has urged that the city reuse the building’s bricks to commemorate the school’s history.

“One day I’m sitting here and I just had this thought that this story about the town of Milton is about to go away. They’re demonstrating,” he said. “And all the bricks – and there are thousands upon thousands of bricks – that make up the facade of this building… are somewhat damaged by the heat of the fire, but they’re still usable.”

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Powers has proposed using the bricks in sidewalks in Milton’s historic district and has publicly stated that in his talks with the demolition company, they would be willing to offer the bricks to the city.

Ed Spears, Milton’s director of economic development, told the News Journal that staff had spoken with the contractor and the property owner, but he was not aware of any particular need for bricks from the city’s perspective. He also openly said that collecting, transporting, and storing the bricks would require a large amount of resources from the city.

The historic Berryhill Elementary School was destroyed after a fire tore through the building in August.

A Pensacola-area developer was revitalizing the nearly century-old brick building and converting it into studio apartments to house NAS Whiting Field employees.

Robert Fabbro, president of Whitesell-Green, Inc. General Contractors, purchased the 2.8-acre property in March 2020. Fabbro told News Journal the day after the fire it was a “sad day,” adding his The company is in the process of redesigning the building to put it on the code.

Fabbro and the demolition company associated with the project did not respond to News Journal’s request for an interview about the story.

“There’s a lot of history of the town of Milton that’s going to end up in landfills,” Powers said.

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The property was originally the headquarters of the county’s first sheriff, WW Harrison, when Florida became a state in 1845. The wooden building served as the county business center until it burned down in 1875.

Berryhill Elementary opened on the site in 1926 and served to relieve the overcrowded Santa Rosa County Graded and High School on Canal Street, which served grades 1 through 12.

In 1989 the district published bids for the construction of a new primary school and the new Berryhill Primary School opened at 4900 Berryhill Road for the 1990-1991 school year. The historic Berryhill Building became the home of the school district’s administrative offices.

In 2016, the district purchased an old Food World building off US 90 for $1.45 million and began renovations to use it as a new administration complex. By early 2019, more than 120 employees from the Berryhill complex had officially moved into Douglas Dillon’s new administration complex and the following year the building was sold to Fabbro.

An overnight fire on August 14, 2022 destroyed the former Santa Rosa County School District's Berryhill Administrative Complex, which was in the process of being renovated for housing.

Councilwoman Shannon Rice said any effort to reuse the bricks from the old Berryhill School should be led by the county historical society, and then potentially could be supported by the city.

She suggested that the Historical Society might pursue the idea of ​​possibly laying the bricks at a nearby corner with a small plaque explaining their meaning. However, she emphasized that she does not expect the project to be managed by the city.

Others in the community, like Cassandra Sharp of the city’s Community Improvement Board, spoke similarly to Powers about the building.

“I hate to see this building being demolished in its entirety. I would prefer to see at least part of the facade as it is historic and represents a historic structure for downtown,” Sharp said.

Sharp said reusing the bricks instead of sending them to a landfill would be a better option.

Ultimately, according to Powers, the goal of the reuse and renovation idea is to maintain the connection to the school.

“There’s still a lot of people in town who went to elementary school there,” Powers said.

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