Five months into a revitalization effort, Pilot Community Center has reached a major milestone: tax-exempt nonprofit status.
The Internal Revenue Service approved the organization’s application to be designated a public charity in a letter dated Oct. 11.
It’s a big step for a small but growing group of supporters who came together in May to save the historic building that educated generations of area schoolchildren beginning in 1921.
“This status adds credibility to our organization by letting potential donors know that we have met the federal government’s criteria for a legitimate, nonprofit, public charity,” board Chairman Ted Veggeberg wrote in an email.
It also allows members and contributors to claim federal tax deductions for their contributions.
“While this may not be important for individuals who have donated $10 or $20, it is vitally important for individuals and corporations that have donated thousands of dollars to our cause. We need to ensure they get the tax credit they deserve for their generous donations,” he wrote.
Volunteers have also spent hours cleaning up and repairing the building and the adjoining nearly 2-acre lot. More work is planned.
Built in 1921 to serve the children of this part of Montgomery County, the four-room Pilot School was converted to a community center in the 1960s.
In that role, it supported the Ruritan Club and the Boy Scouts, allowed generations of Little Leaguers to make home plate just in time and gave families a place to grill hot dogs for reunions and baby showers.
But beginning in the 1990s, use of the facility declined and its infrastructure deteriorated. Earlier this year, it was nearly put up for auction by people formerly involved with the center.
Veggeberg has declined to name the person or persons behind that effort. But it alarmed Pilot residents and other supporters, who came together in public meetings to develop a plan to save it.
Veggeberg said the aging roof will soon be replaced, and an effort to put the old school on the state and national historic registers is underway. Buildings on those registers can qualify for historic tax credits and grants to help with repairs.
Similar four-room schoolhouses were built in many parts of the county beginning in 1920, including Pilot, Prices Fork, Childress, Shawsville and Auburn, according to Sherry Wyatt, curator at the Montgomery Museum of Art & History. All had a similar design — two stories with wood siding, front porch and a hip roof with a cupola.
The facilities educated children of all ages in mixed classrooms with multiple teachers. They had closed by the early 1960s when the county switched to a modern system that separated classes into grades, Wyatt has said.
Pilot may be the last remaining four-room schoolhouse in the county, according to Wyatt. She said she doesn’t know of another that has survived.