Controversy over the Clarke County School District’s West Broad Street School property boiled up again at a recent school board meeting.
The historic building is one of the last standing structures used to educate black children when racial segregation was law in Georgia.
The school building is unused, but the grounds are home to the West Broad Farmers Market and Community Garden, launched five years ago by the Athens Land Trust.
Board members Linda Davis and Charles Worthy questioned whether the garden and the school building could coexist for long. Such gardens won’t exist in the future as real estate values rise, Worthy said, adding that a renovated building would last 40 or 50 years.
“I don’t see a garden lasting that long,” he added.
Under former Superintendent Philip Lanoue, the building was earmarked for renovation to become offices for the superintendent and other county school administrators. But there’s no timetable, or budget, to start work on the old school.
There also doesn’t seem to be full consensus among board members on if adminstration services is the best use for the former school.
Renovating the West Broad School into offices for the school district’s central administration was the second part of a plan outlined by Lanoue when he proposed selling the school district’s old headquarters on Mitchell Bridge Road.
Following the sale, most administrators’ offices shifted to H.T. Edwards, home to the school district’s career academy, where there was plenty of empty space.
The new office arrangement is working reasonably well, said Ted Gilbert, associate superintendent for District Services. He also pointed out that operating out of the West Broad building presents parking problems and the structure is infested with termites.
But the building has special meaning, almost sacred to people who grew up here and attended the school, Davis said.
Davis said moving administration services to West Broad, all in one place, would mean less aggravation for parents and employees, and leave room for the school district’s career academy to grow.
“The career academy has yet to become what it should be,” Davis said.
Other school board members said they wanted to see the school preserved, but in a plan that would keep the garden.
“I think it’s a learning tool,” Ovita Thornton said. “The garden is part of the legacy and the history of the school.”
Administration isn’t the only possible use for a renovated West Broad Street School, said board member Greg Davis.
“I’d feel more comfortable if Classic City (an alternative high school) was over there,” he said.
Board members Sarah Ellis and Carol Williams questioned spending millions on new administrative offices. There’s a lot of community and neighborhood support to keep the garden where it is, said Greg Davis, noting a large number of people who came to a school board meeting last year to speak on behalf of the garden.
“We are a community school district, not a fiefdom,” he said.