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Athens News Matters

Athens News Matters: CCSD Early Learning Site Controversy

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Joshua L Jones
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Standing outside the West Broad Street school site is kind of like standing on the shore of a mechanical ocean, as cars and trucks speed by. But Kenneth Dious, a local civil rights attorney, remembers a time when you heard more from inside the building. Dious was a seventh-grader at the school in 1958 and 1959, and he recalls…

"We had a wonderful time there had a wonderful learning experience there. We remember the old building, we remember the new part was added on to it…"

Now, after years of back and forth, the Clarke County School District announced plans to utilize the West Broad School Site as the location of an Early Head Start Program come March 2022, something which the CCSD Director of Facility Planning and Construction John Gilbreath says is…

" ...the current option that we have for the current needs that we have most pressing need for the school district."

But, even as one question regarding the fate of the site was answered, more concerns popped up, this time focused on the physical preservation of the campus. CCSD’s current plan involves rehabilitating West Broad’s 1938 Minor Street Building - the oldest building on the campus as well as the city’s oldest remaining school from the segregation era - and tearing down the other facilities that make up the site, including the West Broad Street building, the courtyard and the 1950s Campbell Lane building. Executive director of Historic Athens, Tommy Valentine, has been involved with the West Broad Site over the last few years and believes the other buildings can and should be preserved.

"It demonstrates the length that segregated education took place in Athens. And then also, the architecture itself is unique and valuable, according to experts around the country."

Around the time CCSD announced the plans for West Broad Street, Valentine and Dious, along with community leader Fred Smith, Sr., sent a letter requesting, among other things, that the Campbell Lane building and the courtyard be included in preservation plans.

While Valentine supports the installation of an Early Head Start Program, one of his concerns with the West Broad development is the level of care and time being given, especially regarding the deadline for the undertaking. Right now, the CCSD will open the Early Head Start program in March 2022, as dictated by the grant given to CCSD to fund the project. That deadline has been called “aggressive” in recent Flagpole article, and Valentine referred to it as “unrealistic.” The district’s Gilbreath says the level of attention has been the same.

"We feel that we're being consistent in regards to how we handle the other historic sites as well as this site. And again, we hope to have this as a as a positive impact for the community, both for the early learning program as well as the preservation of the Minor Street buildings."

But Valentine believes otherwise:

"In a tragic irony, the same campus that was once deemed separate but equal is again being treated differently than other campuses of its type. If Athens is committed to equity and fairness, we not only have to consider the critical need to bring this site up to code which is possible, or the way to build the best possible facility for the recipients of the headstart program. Again, very important."

This stage in the saga of the West Broad School site is representative of an issue happening on a much broader scale as well — whether revitalization is a matter of bringing in something new and shiny or revamping the old in an effort to move forward while also maintaining an eye on the past. But Valentine says, it’s not that simple.

"The most important thing that Athens must do for concerned with equity is reject the false choice that we need to choose between looking ahead to the future of this site, and preserving the critically significant historical aspect and sense of place of the campus itself."

And for Kenneth Dious, the West Broad School alumnus, the past is important, but so is the future, and he wants other children in Clarke County to get to learn in the same rooms he did in 1958.

"I would like that school headstart program to be in that school Since the school is there, let’s use it for that. As a taxpayer, I don't want to spend another million dollars building a special school for this Headstart program when we have facilities right there [...] It was a beautiful facility. And I would like to see it remain like it is."

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