A group is looking to establish a historical park in West Point in commemoration of an historic African-American school.
Bill Fannings told West Point Council on Monday that the Bethlehem Foundation, a non-profit group of the Bethlehem Baptist Church, was looking to establish the remaining portion of the 10th Street School - the cafeteria - that is on the church’s property as a museum. Adjacent to the church property is city property, which the foundation is proposing to use the city’s Forward Fund to help establish as East 10th Street Center Park.
Fannings gave a brief history of the school: it was constructed in 1931 for African Americans of all grades who, prior to that, learned in church basements. It was focused on mechanical and electrical engineering to prepare young men for work at the mills. For women, the home economics courses were some of the best in the nation, the group’s research found.
In 1956, the school became an elementary school after a new high school was constructed. In 1970, it was integrated for all West Point students in fourth through seventh grades.
The school was demolished in the mid 1970s, except for the lunch room, which reverted back to Bethlehem Baptist Church. In 2013, former students and staff of the school urged the Foundation to restore the building to create a museum and community center.
The restoration of the center is under way. Fannings said the plan for a park in the community would fit in West Point’s plan for projects to improve the city.
The proposal for the park includes creating a gravel parking area, create a pavilion similar to one the city created on Sixth Avenue several years ago near Fort Tyler, add some trees and create a community amphitheater that could be used for area churches’ services, performances or a even stage a local farmer’s market.
“As you can see, it’s workable, it would be a green space when you come in from exit 2 (from Interstate 85) down here toward downtown,” Fannings said. “Instead of just passing shotgun houses (on East 10th Street), you’ve got a beautiful green space over here.”
Fannings said the Bethlehem Foundation is taking care of its side of financing and in the process of making the museum with items from the original school. Fannings said the park should qualify for West Point’s Forward Fund, which is funded through a $6 million bond deal with Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia to provide loans and grants towards the redevelopment of public infrastructure in the city.
“We’re asking that the city, who owns the property here, that you designate and establish it as a park,” Fannings said. “East 10th Street Center Park, so that all residents in the city have access to it and we have our program here, the center, and we will be helping to maintain it and provide security people, workers and volunteers. … We’d like for the city to collaborate with us. Help us make something that our grandchildren can be proud of.”
In a similar matter Tuesday, the city plans to officially request the West Point Housing Authority give the former Virginia Cook Child Care Center on Martin Luther King Drive to the city in order for the city to move forward on plans to turn the building into a potential community center and center for African-American history in West Point. Mayor Drew Ferguson said city officials have met with the housing authority and, “in principal they would like to give that building back to the city.”
Ferguson said there is momentum in the community to get the project going and there many other potential uses that could be utilized. He added for the group proposing the 10th Street park that they should work together as the projects go forward to ensure they do not duplicate effort and get the best value out of both projects. Council will continue discussions at future meetings.
“This could be, along with the housing development that’s going in on Hatchett Street, Higgins Street, this could be another catalyst in the revitalization of the” area, Ferguson said. “… Let’s keep these conversation going, because there’s a lot to do and a lot involved in this. So I’m excited about the fact that we have a couple of good projects potentially going on.”