The controversy surrounding the West Broad Street School site was evident at the first community meeting about the development of the site.
Former Clarke County School District Superintendent Demond Means came under fire for his efforts to lead the redevelopment the site of the West Broad Garden and Farmers Market last year.
The $10 million project will renovate the 10,000-square-foot Minor Street building on the site to include student services and a community meeting room, as well as another building to accommodate an early learning center for the district’s overflowing pre-K classes. Two other buildings on the property are projected to be demolished because of the cost of renovating them.
The Jan. 14 meeting focused on the initial plans and problems for the 3-acre site, including issues regarding stormwater management, uneven elevation and the cost of getting the structures up-to-code.
The early learning center will replace the garden and farmers market, which has caused the initial controversy around the project development. Attendees of the meeting worried their input would not be considered in the project.
Local NAACP president Alvin Sheats remembered other school renovation projects in which he felt residents’their voices were ignored and wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.
John Gilbreath, the director of facility planning and construction for CCSD, assured everyone he welcomed their input. During the next meeting, attendees will have the opportunity to brainstorm how the building and surrounding area could be laid out using small building blocks.
Presenters, which included architect Becky Pope, pointed to this next meeting as a time to address further questions about building usage. The date for this meeting is yet to be announced.
Another concern for attendees was maintaining attention to historic preservation while also creating a useful space for the students of the district.
Tommy Valentine, director of Historic Athens, said he’s excited for the renovations planned for the Minor Street building on the property. Gilbreath showed how previous renovations to Barrow Elementary and Chase Street Elementary included the historic elements of the buildings, which he said is the plan for the Minor Street building.
However, Valentine pointed out what he saw as the presenters’ disregard for the historic value of the two other buildings on the site, which are newer than Minor Street but still more than 50 years old.
Minor Street was built during the Jim Crow era, whereas the other two buildings were constructed during the equalization period of education history, which is when some Southern states continued the “separate but equal” model despite widespread integration efforts.
Valentine suggested creating a historical tribute to the two buildings if they cannot be salvaged and noted that the history of segregation is part of the educational aspects of the space.
“I don’t want to act like preservation is the opposite of the education,” Valentine said. “The preservation is part of the education to give us context on our educational disparities in Athens, to give us contacts on the way dollars were spent.”
Pope and her historical preservation consultant Barbara Black asked the community to provide any old photos they have of the property to the designers so they could better visualize the historic aspects when doing the renovation.
Other attendees wanted to confirm the site would become an early learning center as promised, which developers assured would be the case.
Presenters and attendees talked at the end of the meeting about ways they could reach more people in the community about the next meeting to receive more community input as the project moves forward.