English Avenue Elementary School is located on roughly 3 acres in the westside neighborhood. The school was closed in 1995 and has been vacant ever since, falling into serious disrepair. A $500,000 federal grant will be used to stabilize the building, according to the Atlanta Preservation Center. (Atlanta Preservation Center)

The Atlanta Preservation Center has been awarded a $500,000 federal grant to fund emergency maintenance to one of the city’s oldest school buildings. 

The National Park Service announced May 11 it was awarding an African American Civil Rights grant to the preservation center. The grant will support emergency and essential work at the English Avenue Elementary School in the English Avenue neighborhood of Atlanta’s westside.

The school was built in 1910 and remained open until 1995. Since then, it has been largely abandoned and fallen into serious disrepair. A section of the roof caved in years ago, a portion of the third floor has collapsed and broken windows are boarded up. 

“We are going to utilize this opportunity to go in and shore up the building … to secure the structure from further decay,” said David Y. Mitchell, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center. 

“You’ve got some real challenges out there that have to be addressed,” Mitchell said. “This is triage.”

A 3D scan of English Avenue Elementary School by students in the Georgia Tech School of Architecture.

The Atlanta Preservation Center will be the project managers and community liaisons, working closely with the site owner, the English Avenue Neighborhood Association and Beloved Community, Inc., an organization dedicated to sustainable communities on Atlanta’s westside.

The preservation center is also teaming up with Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Danielle Willkens and the Georgia Tech School of Architecture along with construction technology specialist Junshan Liu and Savannah-based Landmark Preservation to assess immediate needs, Mitchell said. 

“The goal of the Atlanta Preservation Center is the preservation of this historic building for posterity, for moving forward to make sure the story of Vine City is forever a part of the fabric of Atlanta’s experience,” Mitchell said. “That is our intention, our goal and our purpose in this process, period.”

What is known as English Avenue was once called Western Heights, a white neighborhood adjacent to Vine City, a Black neighborhood. When the elementary school was built in 1910, it served only white students. By 1950, at the onset of the civil rights movement, neighborhood demographics shifted, and the Atlanta Public Schools district designated English Avenue Elementary only for Black students. 

In December 1960, as Atlanta public schools were facing being desegregated, a bomb was thrown through a window at the English Avenue school. The incident was held up as a national symbol of southern schools’ resistance to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board ruling in 1954.

Mitchell said English Avenue residents have worked for years to preserve the school but have faced ongoing challenges, including decades of disinvestment from the city and developers. The hope is the $500,000 federal grant will spark more interest in preservation efforts in the neighborhood. 

The City Council approved last year a developer’s plan to redevelop the school into a community center with office spaces and plans for workforce development.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.