The Clarke County School District has released plans to revitalize the West Broad School property by demolishing two buildings at the site and rebuilding the two-story building to become an Office of Early Learning Center.
The West Broad Street School was used for black students during segregation in the late 19th century. The now-vacant building is being considered by the CCSD Board of Education for historic renovations.
The district’s plan calls for a renovation of the West Broad building to include a school-based health clinic, parent information center, community meeting rooms and some sort of “historic recognition of education” in the community.
The controversial plans have caused backlash from some members of the community and came in a Future Facilities Use Report as a call of action for the Board of Education to consider proposals from CCSD.
The district has been engaged in an arrangement with the Athens Land Trust to designate approximately 0.5 acres of land at the property as a farmer’s market and community garden.
CCSD said students in the district have barriers that will hamper their outcome for academic success.
According to CCSD in the Future Facilities Use Report, “constraints for space for ample early childhood educational programs to meet the needs of all interested residents, an equitable distribution of student school assignments leading to enrollment imbalance and scarcity of space for community school services are such barriers that need to be addressed.”
The proposed action to approve the selection of an architectural firm has a potential date of December 2018 with an estimated cost of $575,000 with the funding coming from SPLOST V.
Heather Benham, executive director of Athens Land Trust, said the community came up with comments they’d like to see happen, and it’s the job of the Land Trust to come up with the resources to implement the community’s vision.
“There came a lot of recommendations in the community about things that they would like to see addressed in their neighborhood, and so one of those things was the renovation of the West Broad School site,” Benham said.
In order to allow the ALT to obtain a long-term lease allowing for the continuation of the farmers market, as well as use of the school for community spaces and classrooms, they proposed a partnership with the school and the unified government.
“It depends on who you ask in the community what their major priorities are, but I think a piece of it is around saving that historic school, so that it can continue to tell the story that it’s the last African-American school from segregation that is left, that hasn’t been either completely renovated or torn down,” Benham said.
Melissa Link, District 3 commissioner, thinks new CCSD facilities would be of more use on the opposite side of town.
“On the East side, people are desperate for some kind of health care center, so it’s just really confounding to centralize facilities at this particular location because it’s a location that’s already very well served by these needs, and it seems like a deliberate attempt to push the Land Trust and the Market Garden out,” Link said.
Link said the location would cause a transportation burden on parents when dropping off and picking up their children, saying that stretch of West Broad Street is one of the most dangerous spots in Athens.
The community bonds forged at the garden and market are ultimately what’s at stake, opponents of the CCSD proposal say.
“It’s the only place in Athens where the persistent wall of racial segregation falls apart, and people of multiple races and ages are able to be together in one space and get to know each other really, really well, and that’s something you can’t put a price tag on,” Link said.