WARM SPRINGS, Ga. (WRBL) — A local historic building is about to have a second life. On Aug. 22, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation announced in a press release it was awarded $694,522 by the National Park Service (NPS) Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program.
The money will go toward rehabilitating the Eleanor Roosevelt School, built in 1936 by commission of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was the final of over 5,000 Rosenwald schoolhouses and teacher buildings constructed in the nearly 20-year period following 1917.
“We hope this building will be a financial success and bacon to the public to tell them about the impact of Rosenwald Schools,” said Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust. He explained Rosenwald Schools changed the lives of many Black students by allowing them to get a higher quality of education.
Brother and sister DeBron and Voncher Walker are the current owners of the Eleanor Roosevelt School, having purchased it from the Georgia Trust in 2020. Their website for the rehabilitation project names notable Rosenwald School graduates, including poet Maya Angelou and Georgia representative John Lewis.
“We were just touring Warm Springs and I noticed that there was a building that was abandoned,” said DeBron Walker, owner of Green Mine Growers LLC.
He said his first thought was that he could grow crops on the land surrounding the school. Months after initially seeing the school, DeBron Walker pitched the idea of buying the school to his sister. Voncher Walker joined the venture as a primary investor and worked with her brother to put together a team and work with the Georgia Trust to purchase the school.
They hope to use the NPS funding to restore the building’s roof, windows, doors and masonry. It will also go toward providing additional stabilization for the school. Windows at the school are currently filled in with brick for security purposes, these will be removed and replace with trimmings similar to the school’s originals, according to the Walkers.
The owners’ plans for the Eleanor Roosevelt school also extend beyond rehabilitation. They intend to make the school a national museum and cultural center, featuring artwork reflecting the goals of the school’s creators, Eleanor and F.D. Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald. It will also hold original Rosenwald School artifacts.
Additional plans to provide education on victory gardens and modern agriculture techniques, including hydroponics- and aquaponics growing systems are also in progress. Voncher Walker said another of her goals is to make the school an event venue for weddings, graduations, proms and more.
“I believe that the Trust and myself and my sister, we’re looking at less than 24 months,” said DeBron Walker about his expectations for the timeline of the undertaking. He continued, “A lot of it depends on what we discover is actually going once we get started.”
Groundbreaking for the project will take place on Sept. 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the site of the school. Voncher Walker hopes this will not be the only Rosenwald School she restores.
“There are a lot of Rosenwald Schools out there that are in disrepair and part of my business plans are to hopefully… [acquire] some of those schools,” said Voncher Walker, “so that we can save this treasure, piece of history.”