Historic church, school set for demolition

Clearing land could lead to revitalization, official says



A nearly century-old church and school on Laney-Walker Boulevard could fall victim to the wrecking ball this week, despite efforts by historic-preservation groups to save them.

Preston Tutt, the vice president of Tutt Contracting Inc., said the demolition of the Immaculate Conception buildings is pending clearance that all asbestos has been removed.

A single-story classroom building facing 11th Street would be the first to go, possibly as soon as today, followed by a two-story classroom building, the former sanctuary and the auditorium.

After the concrete parking lots are removed, grass seed and mulch will be spread to cover the lot, Tutt said. Crews worked Monday to prepare for the demolition.

The church and school were established in 1913 by the African Missionary Fathers of the Catholic Church. Over the years, Laney-Walker neighborhood children of all faiths were educated by Franciscan sisters and lay people.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah moved the school’s operations to Telfair Street in 2009. Since then, the diocese has been unable to sell the property, which was listed for close to $550,000, and the buildings continued to deteriorate.

Barbara King, the communications director for the diocese, said in an e-mail that lead paint, standing water, open stairwells and an unsecured property pose safety concerns. At this point, demolition cannot be halted, even if a buyer comes forward.

“The hope is that clearing the land will pave the way for revitalization of the area with the potential construction of affordable housing,” King said.

Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery said efforts to preserve the building received little support from the diocese, school alumni or the neighborhood. Historic Augusta included the property on its 2010 Endangered Property List.

“It’s a shame. I don’t see why the buildings have to be torn down. It probably makes the property less valuable,” Montgomery said. “You lose a major, significant aspect of the Laney-Walker neighborhood. You can’t get it back once it’s torn down.”

In December, the Augusta Housing Authority abandoned a proposal to redevelop the church and school into apartments and a community center, saying historic preservation was not feasible.

Franciscan Sister Janet Roddy, who served as Immaculate Conception School’s principal from 1979-96, said the school’s mission continues through the hundreds of children it educated. The buildings’ poor condition doesn’t represent the place she calls “holy ground.”

“Immaculate Conception’s legacy and its soul and its life will never die,” Roddy said. “I love that place like it’s my home.”

Across the street from the property, Immaculate Conception graduate Sean Williams has kept an eye on his old school from his business, Augusta Professional Auto Detail.

Williams remembers the principal ringing her bell to assemble the school in the courtyard, attending Mass and religion classes, and slipping through the fence to buy candy from the corner store. His mother, Ernestine Williams, taught kindergarten there for about 40 years.

“It’s heartbreaking to see it go,” Williams said. “It gave us a type of education you can’t get at another school.”

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