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Parrish can be proud of saving history

Bill O’Brien served as a teaching principal at Parrish Elementary School from 1957 to 1960.

“It was beautiful. Out of all my experiences kicking around the country, that was the best satisfaction. It was a country school and the children were very well raised by their parents,” O’Brien said Friday. “We had outstanding, classic teachers, and a lot of the kids went on to Palmetto High School and did very well.”

During his tenure in Parrish, O’Brien enlarged the stage and planted trees out front on Arbor Day.

Now 85, he was pleased to read in the Herald this week that the venerable school, which is very nearly his own age, had been renovated and updated and is set to become the Parrish Community Center.

O’Brien would recognize the stage and those old wooden floors, now bright and shiny again.

The two-story school house, the absolute ground zero of social life for generations of Parrish residents, had been closed for several years for extensive repairs and updating.

In large part, the preservation of the schoolhouse can be attributed to citizen efforts, primarily The Parrish Foundation.

But the county commission also played a significant role with funding.

Money is critical to making the world go around, and Manatee County government came through for Parrish in a big way.

It took $2.2 million altogether to breathe new life into the building.

Ironically, the Parrish school project was headed into its final stretch run just as another historic school resembling it in Ellenton was being demolished.

Natalie Alund reported in July that school officials had been unable to sell the Ellenton school house, and after 15 years of not being used, the building was in a dangerous state of disrepair.

So the 15,035-square-foot schoolhouse located at 816 Leffingwell Ave., which was one of the oldest in Manatee County, was torn down.

Local historical preservationists, including Cathy Slusser and anyone else who happens to love history and splendid old buildings, were disappointed.

“It always makes me really sad when we lose another historical building, all the memories that people had ... what it represented,” Alund reported Slusser as saying.

Parrish’s old school house might just as easily have gone the same way.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.