ALPHARETTA, Ga. – While it may not garner the attention of the recent Georgia Dome implosion, the demolition of the old Milton High School building next month will likely have a heartfelt impact on many area residents.
The centerpiece of downtown Alpharetta for nearly a century is set to be torn down in January to make way for a 21st century high school focused on science and technology. The North Fulton STEM school (science, technology, engineering, math) is slated to open in August 2020.
The community is invited to the “Celebration of Milton High School: A Walk to Remember” on Dec. 9 to say their final goodbyes to Milton High School, reminisce with former classmates and take one last walk through the hallways and classrooms.
“We simply wanted the [Walk to Remember] to reflect the two main goals of the function,” said Timothy Duncan, director of Accountability for Fulton Schools. “[It’s] a chance to celebrate Milton for all it has done and continues to do...and to provide one last opportunity to walk the campus and recount fond memories...while maybe running into a few old friends.”
From noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday visitors can drop by, stroll through areas inside and outside of the school. Old yearbooks, pictures of former graduating classes and other Milton memorabilia will be on display, along with the plans for the new STEM school which will rise in Milton’s place.
Organizers of the event want it to be a celebration of the former high school, with food trucks on site and musical performances by alumni, former faculty and current students.
Duncan explained a committee of people representing Milton’s past and present came together to discuss ways to preserve Milton’s legacy, as well as the many artifacts still contained in its original location. The idea for the “Walk to Remember” came from this group.
Clifford Jones, area superintendent for the Northeast Learning Community and former principal at Milton High School, said he was a teacher at the old Milton High School and principal at the new school, so he saw the best of both worlds.
“Working at both facilities and getting to know the community for 12 years, the culture of the original Milton came with us to the new building,” he noted. “The culture is defined by our Milton Family. The Milton identity bridges both facilities, but will always be grounded in the original Milton.”
The original Milton High School on School Drive opened in 1921 with grades 1 through 11, and educated students in the area then known as Milton County. In the 1950s, the opening of nearby Alpharetta Elementary School scaled Milton High to grades 8-12. A middle school followed in the 1980s, converting Milton into a traditional high school with grades 9-12.
The school’s oldest surviving section was completed in 1956. Over the years, there have been 17 additions to the original building, creating a maze-like configuration of hallways that confounded students and visitors alike and added to the allure of the district’s oldest school building.
Former principal Ron Tesch, who holds the distinction of serving as principal at both the old and new Milton, laughs when he remembers the number of freshmen who got lost navigating the twists and turns of the school.
The boom in enrollment in North Fulton in the 1990s rendered the existing school building nearly non-functional, with land constraints limiting any significant expansion. The overflow of students led to a growing number of portable classrooms at Milton each year.
Tesch remembers clearly the challenges of educating more than 3,000 in a school built for half that number.
“I recall the crowded hallways, stairs and cafeteria during those years. We added what we euphemistically dubbed ‘the freshman village’ which was numerous double-portable classrooms that filled the gymnasium parking lot,” he said.
The freshman village soon filled, and portables continued to spring up on any available space on campus.
“At one point, one out of three students was assigned to a portable during the day,” Tesch noted.
In the early 2000s the difficult decision was made to move the entire school to Birmingham Highway across from Northwestern Middle School, which angered many in the community who fought the decision by the Fulton County Board of Education.
“There were critics who never wanted to move the school from downtown Alpharetta, [and] frankly, the students loved the old building with all its quirks and shortcomings,” said Tesch.
He added that if there had been a vote by the community, Milton probably never would have moved. But school leaders made sure throughout the planning process that Milton High School's history and traditions would be preserved. It would not be a new Milton; it would just be a new building.
In 2005, a replacement Milton High School opened on Birmingham Highway and the original building on School Drive was renamed Milton Center. It became the home for Independence High School and a training center for staff.