Start thinking about future of old schools

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

As the Suffolk School Board moves forward with plans to consolidate Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools, officials must come to grips with any number of important issues. Location of the new school, bus routes, attendance zones and design issues are all things that will occupy administrators and School Board members for months to come.

One issue that city officials need to be sure not to allow to slip through the cracks, however, is the fate of the existing buildings, as well as that of the old Nansemond County Training School, which sits adjacent to Southwestern Elementary.

Listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, the Training School was built partially with funds from Julius Rosenwald, who funded the construction of about 5,000 schools for blacks between 1917 and 1932. For years, it was the only public educational institution serving black students living in the southwestern corner of Nansemond County.

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A group of alumni has organized the Nansemond County Training School Heritage Center Inc., which is concerned with preserving the building and hopes eventually to have it converted into a community center, along the lines of the East Suffolk Recreation Center. The East Suffolk facility has become a point of pride for the city, especially among those residents who remember attending school there, when it served as the high school for most of Suffolk’s black students. Now, following renovations, it’s a combination museum and public fitness center.

Folks who attended classes in the Nansemond County Training School would love to see that facility find a similar fate. It also would be a boon to the community, isolated as it is from the amenities of the downtown area. For that matter, folks in Whaleyville would probably enjoy such a facility, as well.

Suffolk’s City Council, which is likely to take ownership of the buildings once the school system is done with them, should think long and hard before shuttering them and locking the doors. It would be far more desirable to put them to some useful purpose than to watch them fall apart within their communities.