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Editorial: The heart of East Spencer

The long-hoped-for rebirth of the former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in the heart of East Spencer may finally be coming to fruition.
And if it does, there couldn’t be a better catalyst for the town’s own revitalization efforts.
Three years after East Spencer native Anderson Pledger and his wife, Bertha, bought the Dunbar Center, the couple sold it to the congregation of Shady Grove Baptist Church. And, as detailed by Steve Huffman in the July 22 edition of the Salisbury Post, the church has big plans for the facility.
Interest the center’s survival is not surprising, given its place in East Spencer and Rowan County history. For decades during segregation, it educated black high school students. With integration in 1969, it ceased operating as a high school but remained open as North Rowan Middle until replaced in the 1990s.
Despite its physical deterioration, the school system’s decision to sell the center in 2005 caused some consternation, since it meant a number of community programs and ministries housed there would be displaced. But its future looked brighter when the Pledgers stepped in.
After buying the property for $200,000 in late 2005, Anderson Pledger spoke of wanting to refurbish the Dunbar Center, establish it as a business hub and make it the focal point of “a renaissance in this area.”
East Spencer leaders bought into that vision. They focused their efforts on the area around the center, developing the Dunbar Renaissance Village Strategic Redevelopment Plan, which involved demolishing dilapidated buildings, making improvements to other properties and building new houses on vacant lots.
But while the Pledgers surely had good intentions when they bought the Dunbar Center, the crown jewel of the entire plan has sat largely lifeless, the promised renaissance unrealized.
Enter Shady Grove Baptist, which sits just up Long Street from the center. After paying the Pledgers $400,000 for the property, church members got to work. They’ve refurbished the old school cafeteria and hope to open a restaurant there, something that’s lacking in East Spencer. The church also wants to lease out old classroom space for office and retail use.
Shady Grove’s pastor, the Rev. Alonza Williams, isn’t making any bold predictions. But, he says, “prayerfully, it’ll happen.” In a step of faith ó and marketing ó the church has renamed the property the Paul Laurence Dunbar Business and Community Enrichment Center.
And while the Dunbar Center is no business park to draw major industry to East Spencer, no gleaming mall to entice big-name retailers, its use can enrich the community and its fate is vitally important to this town.
Maybe now, with the church’s apparent dedication, the former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School really will be born again.
At least, it has a heartbeat.

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