Salisbury mulls future of J.C. Price building

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
The Salisbury community has a new project: restoring the former J.C. Price High School building on West Bank Street.
Numerous speakers told Salisbury City Council Tuesday that it’s the city’s responsibility to take a leadership role in restoring and repairing the 1932 structure, which is central to the history of generations of African-American residents.
The city owns the building, which has been the headquarters for decades of the Salisbury-Rowan Community Service Council, known mostly for its Head Start program and as a community assistance locale.
The J.C. Price building last served as a high school in 1969, when integration merged its students with those at Boyden High School, which was renamed Salisbury High.
J.C. Price High School was founded in 1922 as the Monroe Street School. It was renamed to J.C. Price High School in 1926 in honor of Dr. Joseph Charles Price, founder and first president of Livingstone College.
A new building for the high school was built in 1932 at today’s location on West Bank Street. L.H. Hall, for whom the city’s gymnasium on the site is named, served as the high school’s principal until his retirement in 1947.
The high school has both local and national alumni associations and regular, well-attended reunions in Salisbury.
Elizabeth Fields, executive director of the community action agency, said the old school routinely attracts visitors who want to roam down the familiar halls and see where they attended classes such as chemistry and typing.
It was the last place nationally known educator Elizabeth Duncan Koontz taught, Fields said.
“This building means something to the community,” said Fields, a Price High graduate herself who has spent all but seven years of her working career in the building. “… This is where my heart is.”
William Peoples, who was in eighth grade when the school closed its doors in 1969, said the city should improve it and place a historic marker in front of the building. He hinted that it has potential as a museum for African-American history.
“The city of Salisbury could make that a gem,” he said, “just like the depot.”
Rodney Queen, head of the Building and Grounds Committee for the Community Action Council, said that while the building has immense historical value, it is dilapidated. Dollars that could be going to the agency’s programs are being steered toward repairs instead, he said.
Jack Thomson, director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, said he was delighted to see how intact much of the structure is. While there has been a loss of some of the original building materials and parts of the structure are not stable, it remains “a gem of a building,” he added.
One of the first things that can be done, Thomson said is having the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an approval that should be “a no-brainer.”
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz recently toured Price High with Fields and Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy, who also is chairman of the Community Service Council. She said she understood the tremendous cost that would be involved with a restoration, but she said great potential exists to put together a group and have a successful fundraising effort.
Councilman Mark Lewis said he saw two issues: The community service agency needed a quality building to house its programs, and the historic building had to be preserved.
City Manager David Treme agreed with speakers that a task force should be formed first to come up with a strategy รณ a plan outlining the public and private roles.
Kluttz said the council would try to report back on a possible task force at its Aug. 19 meeting.