New life for an old building

Published 8:41 pm Saturday, January 24, 2009

For 30 years, the former East Suffolk High School sat empty, a symbol of segregated education in Suffolk and, later, of the unrealized dreams of many in Suffolk’s African-American community.

While members of the school’s alumni association stayed close and shared their hopes for both Suffolk and the place where they had spent much of their teen years, the building continued to deteriorate.

All that has changed today, as the East Suffolk Recreation Center has risen from the old school’s ashes. The new facility — comprising the old school and an 8,500-square-foot addition that houses a gymnasium with basketball and volleyball courts — is a shining example of the kind of progress that will put Suffolk in the forefront of Hampton Roads’ communities.

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Packed with gleaming new fitness equipment, computers, pool tables and meeting space — as well as mementoes from its past life as one of the city’s high schools for black students — the facility builds on the foundation of its past to offer a bright future to families throughout the city.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the tours that followed on Saturday, there were nods to both the past and the future of the building. Under the watchful eyes of Parks and Recreation Department staff members, children played on the fitness equipment as older African-Americans hugged and remembered their days as students in the old high school.

There were heartwarming reunions between former teachers and students, there was the joy of watching dreams fulfilled and there were the hopes of youngsters who realized the opportunities inherent in a new recreational outlet.

As City Council member Leroy Bennett said during the facility’s opening ceremony, the activities available in the new building will serve to “keep children busy, keep them out of trouble.”

It’s a fitting new use for a school where so many of Suffolk’s finest citizens were trained.