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Date of Issue: April 13, 2006

School caboose now school museum

Old caboose
Before the Anna Maria Elementary School's caboose was painted, school members posed for this picture in 1987. Joan Pettigrew is on the far left and former AME Principal Jim Kronus is on the far right. The caboose still sits on the school campus where it has served several functions from computer lab to office space.

Anna Maria Elementary School will add to its new campus appeal with a unique museum. It will not be in the new spacious building, rather it will appropriately be the little red caboose that sits in the courtyard.

Kathy Hayes, school principal, and Joan Pettigrew, who was instrumental in bringing the caboose to the school grounds in 1987, will speak about the project at the Anna Maria Island Historical Society meeting at 3 p.m. April 17 at Holmes Beach City Hall. The meeting is open to the public and past, present and future AME families are especially urged to attend.

Plans for the transformation of the caboose will be outlined at the meeting and AME art teacher Gary Wooten and his students will participate with the help of historical society members. The society hopes to broaden the exposure of the Island school's history, which started as a two-room schoolhouse in the 1930s when it was located where the Anna Maria Island Community Center sits today. The Holmes Beach school, demolished last year, was built in 1950.

Acquiring the caboose was a community project back in '87, according to Pettigrew, who contacted Tropicana and then CSX for assistance. After she convinced the school board and administration it would cost them nothing to acquire the caboose, the plan took shape. Retired railroad workers cleaned and painted it red.

Lou Merucci, father of two AME students, acquired a crane and flat bed truck to bring the caboose to the Island. Some remember seeing the caboose crossing the Anna Maria Island Bridge in November 1987. It was an unusual sight and students watched in awe as it rolled onto the school grounds, recalled Pettigrew.

Parents and teachers then refurbished and decorated the interior. It has served as a computer technology center starting in 1988. In March 1995, it was dedicated to Billie Coles, who taught at the school from 1979 until her death in 1994. She was credited in getting parents involved in their children's computer education and for being the front-runner for in-classroom computer stations.

For more information about the AMIHS project, call 778-0492.