LEXINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — New plans are emerging for the former Dunbar Junior and Senior High School in Lexington.
The school was built in 1951 and named after African American poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar. For more than a decade, it was the sole all-black school for African American kids in Lexington until de-segregation.
Susie Crump Baker was there in 1964 before integration happened. She tells FOX8 it’s tough for her to remember some things, but she recalls her time at Dunbar well.
“It was a wonderful school to come to. The teachers were nice and made you mind and act like you were a human,” Baker said.
Baker says it was a school that molded good students and good human beings.
“I loved that school, and I hate to see it sitting here like it is,” Baker said.
Baker is referring to the school’s now run down appearance. Doors are boarded up, and glass is smashed out of the auditorium windows.
The school closed in 2008. In 2009, it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte with the hopes of working with developers to convert the school into affordable housing for seniors.
Developers weren’t able to secure the proper tax credits to make the project feasible during the economic downturn, leading the Diocese to donate the school back to Preservation North Carolina.
“It’s a big project. It’s 85,000 square feet of building and 10 acres of land,” said Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina.
According to Howard, the project could cost anywhere from $10 to $12 million. Despite the change in ownership, the plan is still the same.
“The expectation is that it will be some form of affordable, workforce housing. It’s not zoned for other uses, and it’s really not located well for other uses,” Howard said.
Howard expects developers to keep the building intact. Howard says it was designed by a prestigious architecture firm at the time. The good bones of the school, though, have complicated roots.
“There’s a period in the 50s and 60s where the best schools in North Carolina were being built for African American students,” Howard said. “They were trying to catch up from 75 to 100 years of neglect, Jim Crow and slavery before that.”
Lynn Jowers is another former student who likes the idea of Dunbar being turned into housing for more people. She went there in the 70s after the school was integrated.
“Now we’re all equal and hopeful they’ll do something where we can all come together and it be a place where we can all be,” Jowers said.
Alumni hope to create an even bigger Dunbar family.
“We were just like family,” Baker said.
Preservation North Carolina is fielding interest from developers but can’t move forward with any official plans until the building donation is complete this month.