School, church could be made into residences

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Laney-Walker Boulevard's old Immaculate Conception church and school could be torn down to build public housing. Or, history might intervene.

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Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, says that the Immaculate Conception school and church building could be renovated into needed public housing.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, says that the Immaculate Conception school and church building could be renovated into needed public housing.

Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, said the buildings are important to local black history. Also, the demolition probably won't pass a required state historic preservation review. He would like the Augusta Housing Authority to consider converting the buildings for residential use instead.

"It's an iconic historic building on Laney-Walker that could be saved," he said.

A housing authority representative, however, said he'll wait for state guidance before making a decision. Georgia's Historic Preservation Division reviews federally funded projects to determine whether they adversely affect historic buildings. The Immaculate Conception review should be finished by mid-September.

"We understand (Historic Augusta's) concern," said Richard Arfman, the authority's director of Planning and Development. "But we think it would be cost-prohibitive to adapt the buildings for our use."

The Immaculate Conception church and school was built in 1913 by the African Missionary Fathers of the Catholic Church, and over the years, neighborhood children of all faiths were educated there. Beginning in 1958, two additional school buildings were constructed.

"It's not as grand as Sacred Heart or Holy Trinity, but when you consider the African-American Catholic presence would have been small, it's pretty remarkable Augusta would have had a black Catholic church," Montgomery said.

In the 1970s, the Catholic diocese closed the church, but the school used the site until 2009.

Christine Miller-Betts, the executive director of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, said she learned only recently of the housing authority's desire to tear the buildings down. If more people knew, the housing authority would hear resistance, she said.

"It's too valuable; it's been here for many years," Miller-Betts said. "I think it would be an interruption of the historic corridor."

The Laney-Walker neighborhood might value its history, but it also appears to need housing.

In 2007, the housing authority sold Gilbert Manor to what is now Georgia Health Sciences University, and in 2009 it tore down Underwood Homes. That's more than 500 units of public housing, Arfman said.

"There's a need for more public housing, especially for seniors," Arfman said. "When we demolished Gilbert Manor, we told community leaders we'd replace some of it, and they said they'd like to see it along the Laney-Walker corridor."

The authority would like to build 24 single-family and duplex homes at the Immaculate Conception site, blending the design with nearby Heritage Pine subdivision.

Asked about converting the old buildings, Arfman said the old Immaculate Conception church sits close to the street, has been remodeled into small rooms and has a leaking roof.

"It would be nice to save it. But I don't think we have the money and if we did, I don't think we could use it for housing," he said.

Montgomery, though, said historic schools convert nicely into housing. A church can be re-purposed as a community center.

"Old buildings have problems, but they can be brought back," he said. "If it's done right it's not necessarily going to give you any more trouble than a new building."

Reach Carole Hawkins at (706) 823-3341, or

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pwren46 07/23/11 - 06:30 am
Oh yes, please! Let's tear

Oh yes, please! Let's tear down historic buildings and build nice new houses for the deadbeats in our society who refuse to work and want those of us who do to support them!

floridasun 07/23/11 - 06:33 am
Hopefully this property can

Hopefully this property can be saved
Will the people protesting the possible closure of Laney Walker Blvd through the GHSU campus because of its historic significance also work to save a building that is actually historic on Laney Walker Blvd?

bushwhacker 07/23/11 - 08:04 am
So happy we can be educated

So happy we can be educated that the less fortunate are actually deadbeats. Thank you 46. Maybe they won't tear down your glass house.

allhans 07/23/11 - 12:25 pm
I didn't understand it to

I didn't understand it to say, tear it down to build housing. I look at it as redoing the interior such as was done with the Enterprise mill.

I'll bet seniors would love to live there and would take good care of it.

TrukinRanger 07/23/11 - 01:07 pm
What a line... More public

What a line... More public housing needed for "seniors"... and their unemployed children, and their children. NO. Tear it down and do not make more "public" housing. Make it an assisted living which ONLY ONLY ONLY allows the person on the lease to enter the property. Atlanta has already done away with it's projects- time for Augusta to follow their lead.

billyjones1949 07/23/11 - 08:49 pm
Who is going to pay for all

Who is going to pay for all this. Bushwacker, maybe you can't see out of yours but there are alot who think everybody owes them everything.

mike71345 07/24/11 - 12:33 am
If the buildings would cost

If the buildings would cost more to repair than would be reasonable as regards their appraised value, a judge can order them demolished. This would avoid the federal review altogether. Just sayin'.

mike71345 07/24/11 - 01:06 am
Oh, and by the way, has Erick

Oh, and by the way, has Erick Montgomery (as part of the board overseeing the Laney-Walker revitalization) filed for a federal review of the demolition of the other certified historic structures going on in that neighborhood to make way for Section 8 housing?

fdn315 07/26/11 - 05:51 pm
Everyone in my family has

Everyone in my family has attended immaculate conception myself included. Relocating closer to holy trinity was good for both the school and the church but it's not much you can do with an old church/school. The old convent on 12th was supposed to be renovated into condos also I believe but if they weren't able to raise enough money to keep the school there it's hard to believe the same group of people would be able to raise enough to save the structure.

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