EPI hears about Heritage Park

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Spalding County Manager William Wilson Jr. spoke to the Educational Prosperity Initiative (EPI) on Thursday about the updates to the Heritage Park project.

In the past, several members of EPI have expressed concern about the lack of forward movement on the Heritage Park project which, in part, seeks to preserve a historic Rosenwald School.

Rosenwald Schools were built in rural areas for African American children in the segregated South between 1912 and 1932.

According to “Preserving Rosenwald Schools,” a booklet by Mary S. Hoffschwelle, the schools were the concept of Booker T. Washington, who approached Julius Rosenwald, a philanthropist and part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Co., with an idea to build schools for rural black children.

“With a shared faith in the power of self-help, Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald insisted on local contributions to match Rosenwald grants for these experimental schools,” the booklet explains.

The schools were in use until a 1954 Supreme Court ruling declared segregation in education unconstitutional. Since that time, their use declined and many have been abandoned or demolished, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which estimates that only 10 to 12% of the 5,357 schools, shops and teacher homes that were constructed through the grants still survive today.

During the virtual Zoom meeting, Wilson showed the architectural plans for the updates to the location on North Third Street in Griffin. Plans include preserving as much of the Rosenwald School as possible, such as the existing chimneys. They will also install insulation, LED lighting that will be in a style that reflects the period in which the school was built, heating and air and electricity.

The plans also include adding parking and a welcome center to the right of the school, which will include handicap-accessible ramps and bathrooms and will provide a covered, handicap-accessible ramp into the Rosenwald School. Wilson said the facade of the welcome center will be designed to complement the exterior of the Rosenwald School.

He said the end result will be a “showcase” and said, “It’s really going to change the neighborhood.”

The existing Equalization Building will be given over to the Griffin Housing Authority for renovation and use, according to Wilson.

The main concern expressed by EPI members during the meeting was the lack of bathrooms in the Rosenwald School plans. Wilson explained that to install the federally required handicap bathrooms would take up a significant amount of space in the Rosenwald building and that the handicap bathrooms in the welcome center will be accessible via the covered ramp between the two buildings.

Jewel Walker-Harps expressed her appreciation to Wilson, the Spalding County Board of Commissioners, the Griffin Housing Authority “and others involved,” saying she was confident the facility will be “top rate” like the Spalding County Senior Center “and will be admired by all surrounding areas.”

Wilson agreed and said that like the Senior Center, the Rosenwald School and welcome center will be “state of the art.”

Jennifer Reynolds, Griffin Daily News June 4, 2020