West Broad School demolition denied, fate of historic Black school building uncertain
West Broad Street School supporters demonstrate to save building
Demonstrators gathered on Thursday to try and save the historic West Broad Street School.
The Campbell Lane Building of the West Broad School will not be demolished at this time, as school officials will go back to the drawing board.
Board of Education members voted Thursday night against an abatement and demolition contract for the West Broad School. By denying this contract, school officials now have to develop a new recommendation for the site’s demolition and construction plans.
The West Broad School campus is on a 3.3-acre piece of property and currently houses three buildings. At least one — but possibly two — of these of the buildings will be torn down and a brand new building will be built to house the Early Head Start Program
, which would serve children from 8 weeks old to 3 from families either at or below the poverty line.
The program is being expanded through a funding grant which had an original deadline of March 2022. Due to the circumstances surrounding the West Broad School, Clarke County School District was approved for an extension. Board members on Tuesday expressed concern that by delaying construction, they risk not meeting the new deadline and losing the grant.
One week before Thursday’s meeting, the community was informed of the two options for the fate of the West Broad School: a two-building plan or a three-building plan. Superintendent Xernona Thomas made the recommendation for the two-building plan and the purpose of the community meeting was to outline how she made that decision.
The three-building plan would preserve two of the three historic Black schools from the days of segregation while the two-building plan would preserve only one of the buildings.
The original West Broad School campus has three buildings on the property. The Minor Street Building came first in 1939, then in 1954 came as the second building, a one-story facility facing West Broad Street and Paris Street.
The last building on the property, referred to as the Campbell Lane Building, was built in 1958 and is at the center of a controversy between preservationists, who wish to save the building, and school district officials, who want to build a new structure in its place.
The two-building plan would preserve only the Minor Street building and build a new 22,600 square foot large building. The three-building plan would preserve both the Minor Street Building and the Campbell Lane building and will construct a smaller, new building, at 20,200 square feet.
If the demolition contract had been approved, then the two-building plan would have been finalized. However, because that vote failed, Thomas will come back to the board with a new recommendation.
The vote failed narrowly in a 5-4 vote, with board members Patricia Yager, Kara Dyckman, LaKeisha Gantt, and Tawana Mattox voting for the demolition and board members Greg Davis, Kirrena Gallagher, Linda Davis, Mumbi Anderson, and Nicole Hull voting against.
District officials in last week's community meeting presented what they believe are the pros and cons of the two different plans, outlining many advantages to the two-building plan and many disadvantages of the three-building plan.
The advantages of the two-building plan included more outdoor playground space, better traffic flow in the parking lot, and more classrooms within one building which would minimize the movement of children between buildings.
Disadvantages of the three-building plan included a 100-foot inclined ramp between buildings that would place pressure on staff, less outdoor space, and classrooms above size standards.
According to school officials, one concern with keeping the Campbell Lane Building is that the second floor could not be used as classroom space, as it would house young children who legally cannot be taught on the second floor.
District officials only identified two positive aspects of the three-building plan: extra meeting space on the second floor of the Campbell lane building and that the building is being saved for historic preservation.
During Tuesday’s meeting, a number of community members addressed the board to voice their support of saving the building, saying it was an important piece of Athens’ Black history from the Equalization Era.
“Campbell is an important building, it speaks to an important time in our history, a very special time,” said community member Fred Smith during public comment.
Due to the campus’s historic nature, the property is currently being considered for the Georgia and National Register of Historic Places.
The eligibility stems from two qualifications: the school’s significance in “education” and “Black ethnic heritage" and then "architecture," with the letter outlining that the school could be significant for its architectural style, which includes the Neoclassical Revival and International styles.
The letter also makes clear that this is a preliminary assessment — no official declaration has been made, and it could be determined that the school is no longer eligible. One way the campus could lose its eligibility, the letter said, is if there is “any change in or loss of integrity” of the school, such as demolition to a structure.
Not all public comments were in favor of saving the Campbell Lane Building. Preservation is possible but would cost CCSD an extra $3.6 million. Thomas discussed the possibility of using federal funds, but it is unclear if that is possible.
"I'm not at all trying to make this, 'you can have West Broad or you can have Cedar Shoals'. It's just the reality of if we look at the money we have in the bank at this moment," said Thomas.
Parents and alumni of Cedar Shoals voiced their disapproval for the reallocation of the funds, saying that it was a broken promise that the school is not getting its field house when Clarke Central High School received a new turf field and track renovations prior to the 2020 football season.
“It was promised we get the field house, it's time to live up to that promise," said Harry Bufford, a retired coach for Cedar Shoals, during public comment to the board.
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