ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- The historic halls of the former Abilene High/Lincoln Middle School were full again for the first time in more than a decade. Even a few students returned to witness a pivotal moment for the building’s future, as Abilene Heritage Square’s construction is scheduled to commence soon. The $78 million project is now 85% funded and just a couple of years from opening to the public.

“If you keep a diary, today is going to be a historic entry. If you don’t keep a diary, today is a good day to start,” Abilene historian Jay Moore told the crowd at Thursday’s event.

Moore’s comment highlighted the key role the building has played in many Abilenian’s lives as well as the potential it now holds for many future visitors.

“This landmark building is about to be brought back to life,” said Moore.

Abilene High School 1950s courtesy of Shirley Jackson Roberts

The project officially began in 2011. A group of citizens were concerned about the fate of the old building and hoped to see it preserved. That hope became Heritage Square Inc., the group that has overseen the project and will guide the transformation of the property into a multi-purpose learning complex and gathering place.

It will house the new main branch of the Abilene Public Library, a satellite location of the Grace Museum that will offer science education, a coffee shop, classrooms for ‘Stone Owl Academy’ as well as the renovated and historically restored ‘Eagles Nest’ Gymnasium and school auditorium. All these amenities will come together to provide opportunities for weddings, proms, concerts, lectures, and, of course, public education.

“We’ve been really excited about the changes and the fact that Abilene is coming together to save this school,” said Gayle Grey, a graduate of the Abilene High School class of 1955.

Gayle Grey, AHS graduate of 1955

Grey shared that it felt like a turning point in her life to witness the beginnings of the rebirth of her old school. A similar sentiment was shared by Abilene Council member Shane Price. Price addressed the crowd both as a city leader and a graduate of Lincoln Middle School.

“Lincoln just impacted me in such a positive way… I learned I can get up in front of a crowd and talk and not faint,” Price said.

Construction on the project is expected to take about two years to complete, after which Abilene Heritage Square will be open to the public. Moore shared that the project was entirely funded by the donations of the Abilene community, and not by bonds or tax dollars.