Historic Rosenwald school being restored
By Kathy Chaffin
CLEVELAND ó Slowly but surely, the R.A. Clement School here ó one of the historic Rosenwald schools built for black students in the rural South ó is being restored.
“Anytime you’re dealing in historic preservation, it doesn’t go fast,” Mayor Jim Brown said at Monday night’s town commissioners meeting.
Vera Avery and Gene Steele, co-presidents of the West Rowan Neighborhood Center Advisory Council, the group of R.A. Clement School alumni working to restore the school, updated Cleveland commissioners on their progress at the meeting.
Avery said money from a $9,000 Robertson Foundation grant was used last November to replace the roof on the 80-year-old school.
A $50,000 grant recently awarded for the project by Lowe’s and the National Trust for Historic Preservation To Fund Projects “really helps us to establish our credibility,” she said.
“We are very excited because it allows us to take the next step in our renovation process,” which centers on repairing the windows and brickwork, Avery said,.
“There’s been a lot of eroding of the mortar, so that has to be replaced,” she said. “A lot of the windows have significant rot (on the frames) because of water damage and things like that, and a lot of the panes have been broken by vandals and wind damage, so they need to be replaced.”
Avery said the work will dramatically improve the appearance of the old school. “I always thought the windows were one of its prettiest features,” she said.
Members of the West Rowan Neighborhood Center Advisory Council are very appreciative of the grant money awarded toward the project, she said. The Robertson Foundation awarded an even larger grant, $10,000, this year.
The Cleveland Board of Commissioners and the Covington Foundation were the first donors to the restoration project, both contributing $5,000 in 2005, Avery said. Even though it’s been a slow process, she told town commissioners their investment would pay off when the project is complete.
“We want it to be a true community center,” she said. Though the school started out as a place to keep black students segregated from white students, Avery said it will become an integrated center where the community can come together as one.
The restoration group hopes to have the school and adjacent auditorium completely restored by 2010. Members are working with Angelo Franceschina of the Rural Improvement Project Initiative of Winston-Salem, who has been instrumental in helping to renovate other Rosenwald schools.
Franceschina has helped the West Rowan Neighborhood Center Advisory Council to apply for grants for the restoration. Avery said Jack Thomson, managing director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, has also advised them on the project.
The R.A. Clement School was among many historic Rosenwald schools built by Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington between 1918 and 1932.
“Our building is a little bit unique,” Avery said. “It was one of the few ones that was built of brick.”
The school design includes four classrooms built around a central auditorium. The adjacent auditorium was constructed later.
Members of the restoration group will hold a fish fry at Saturday’s Spring Fest at the Cleveland Town Park to raise money for the project. Then in the fall, Avery said the group will be doing a direct mail campaign to alumni of the R.A. School.
The mailing list will be updated during their annual weekend reunion this summer, she said. One of the planned activities will be held at the school, where a sign listing donors will be posted and representatives of the donating agencies and foundations will be invited to attend.
“This has been a project that has been embraced by the whole community,” Avery said. “What is most important to our group is changing … what used to be a symbol of separation into something that’s going to be for the entire community.”
Anyone interested in helping with the project can call Avery at 704-278-9725. The West Rowan Neighborhood Center Advisory Council meets every third Saturday at 10 a.m. at the school.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.