Preservationists and Davidson alumni renew efforts to save school building

Warren Campbell, of APD Urban Planning and Management (from left), and Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery accompany Artspace representatives touring the former John S. Davidson School on Telfair Street.

 

 

Historic preservationists and alumni of the former John S. Davidson School have renewed efforts to save the old Davidson school building from demolition.


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The Richmond County Board of Education planned to raze the circa-1933 two-story brick school building as early as this summer. Recently, Historic Augusta Inc. offered help to market the old Davidson and four other school buildings with historic significance to preservation-minded buyers.

Benton Starks, the senior director of facilities and services for the school system, said the building has generated little interest from buyers since it was vacated in 1997. The board’s willing to “give one last push” to sell the property and will halt the demolition if serious interest generates in rehabilitating the school.

“We’d love to see that happen, but at some point we’ve got to move on,” Starks said.

More than 1,000 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to saving the old Davidson building. On the page, alumni have discussed potential uses for the building and how to acquire funding.

Heard Robertson, the chairman of Historic Augusta’s real estate committee, said the building could possibly be used as institutional space for future growth of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities. Or, the school could be converted into loft-syle living space similar to the successful restoration of the William Robinson school in Summerville.

On Wednesday, a non-profit Minneapolis-based group called Artspace visited the old Davidson school as part of a two-day trip to the area. At the request of the city, Artspace is studying the feasibility of developing affordable living and work space for artists.

Wendy Holmes, the senior vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace, said school buildings like Davidson convert easily into living spaces. Of Artspace’s 30 projects, five are former school buildings.

“There’s wide hallways to be used as gallery space, tall ceilings, lots of natural light,” Holmes said.

Artspace representatives and employees of APD Urban Planning and Management, the project manager for the city’s Laney-Walker and Bethlehem revitalization efforts, took a brief look at the exterior of the Davidson school but did not tour the inside.

Despite its poor conditions, Robertson, who graduated from the last class in the old school building in 1997, thinks the building’s facade can be saved even if the inside needs significant structural work.

“Historic buildings are art in themselves. It represents the period that created it and it’s an important tie as a community to where we came from,” he said.

While the building has sat unoccupied, the roof caved in and the second floor collapsed onto the first floor. More than $20,000 was spent to construct a fence surrounding the property and board up windows, Starks said.

The school system also has liability concerns with the deteriorating building. Starks deemed the building unsafe and banned school system employees from entering the property.

If the building comes down, Starks said he intends to plant a grassy field and maintain it while waiting on another use for the site.

 

THE FORMER JOHN S. DAVIDSON SCHOOL

The old Davidson school building, 1102 Telfair Street, was built in 1933. The art moderne-style building was vacated in 1997 when the current Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School opened nearby. The 37,198 square-foot building featuring 29 classrooms is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Historic Augusta.

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