New multimillion-dollar project aims to revive English Avenue, Vine City neighborhoods
State Representative “Able” Mable Thomas, along with the newly formed D.R.E.A.M. Team (Delivering Resources to the English Avenue Move-ment), leads the effort in developing the historic school into a new multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art, green technology and global community center. English Avenue Elementary School has been shuttered since the early 1990s and has sat vacant; attracting vandals, collecting dust, weeds and everything else that comes with a neglected structure in the middle of an urban center like Atlanta.
A neighborhood in need of a booster shot of economic prosperity, educational enrichment, and community and civic “give a damn” attitude may be getting just what the doctor ordered, thanks to the renovation of an 100 year old abandoned school building on Atlanta’s northwest side.
English Avenue Elementary School has been shuttered since 1995, and has sat vacant, attracting vandals, collecting dust, weeds and everything else that comes with a neglected structure in the middle of an urban center like Atlanta. However, a local group has a plan on its drawing board that could change the entire look of the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods.
The Greater Vine City Opportunity Program (GVCOP), a nonprofit community-service organization founded two decades ago, recently purchased the building from the Atlanta Public Schools and wants to transform it into a State-of-the-Art, Green Technology, Global, Community Center.
“This is our chance to help rebuild our community and do it with a building that has been the heart of this area for 100 years,” said Able Mable Thomas, the program’s executive director and founder. “We saw the building sitting here and it seemed as if no one cared, so we decided that putting people and our neighborhood first, we should try to raise the money, buy and renovate the structure,” said Thomas, who insists on being referred to as “Able Mable,” a name citizens gave her years ago, when at 25 she was elected (at the time) the state’s youngest female state legislator.
The “Able Mable” nickname came about—and stuck—after her constituents noted that she was always “able” to get things done for them. She has a record for passing legislation while in the State House, and garnered enough votes to win a city-wide seat on the Atlanta City Council before returning to community work.
Now, the school building she hopes to renovate is as rich with history as it is with asbestos and lead paint. It was named for former Atlanta Mayor James English, (who served from January 1881 to January 1883) and is a 50,000 square feet structure made of brick that sits on 3.2 acres of land. Built in 1910, for nearly half a century the school was not open to black students. It integrated in the 1950s as the Civil Rights Movement began sweeping through the South and across the United States. Flash forward to the 1990s and the building became one of several schools closed because of low enrollment. Many of the city’s white students disappeared as white citizens migrated to the suburbs as black residents became more and more politically connected.
“Now that Able Mable and the Greater Vine City group has a plan to restore the building, citizens feel a sense of hope that our community will experience a rebirth, a renaissance even,” said longtime English Avenue resident Robert Ross.
Able Mable already has a friendly State Representative elect ready to help. Gloria Tinubu, a respected applied economist, college professor and former mayoral candidate sits on the GVCOP board and recently was elected to an open House seat in metro Atlanta.
“What we will do is what most people thought was impossible,” said Ms. Thomas. “We are going to take an old eyesore of a school, restore it, and turn it into a one-stop-shop facility to help people and provide jobs and economic stability.” Able Mable says that the plan is to develop the Historic school into a new multi-million dollar “green” facility. It would house a technology center (computer labs and more); a performing arts center with a 400-seat auditorium; space for a recording and production studio, retail shops, office space for community groups in which to operate; and facilities for senior and youth recreational services.
The group plans to retrofit the building with the latest “green” and environmentally safe and environmentally sustainable trappings. The school’s cafeteria and kitchen will be renovated and brought up to code. There will be green job-training programs and a small-business incubator. Robert admits paying for the dream to become a reality will be the toughest task, but he believes organizers and citizens who live around the site are up for it.
Able Mable says her organization has already looked into the possibility of getting a grant from The Prince’s Foundation, which helps to rebuild communities of promise. Based in the UK, it is one of the major charities of Prince Charles, the Duke of Edinburgh and son of Queen Elizabeth II.
“We are also actively seeking grants and contributions from the federal government, (stimulus grant funds), individuals, alumni, national philanthropist, local celebrities and the private sector,” Able Mable said. “We will also do our own grass-roots fundraising, because when people put their own money into a project, they feel like they own it and will become involved, not just watch it happen around them.”
Organizers expect to publicly announce the project to the community in mid September, and they anticipate the renovated building to re-open as a Community center sometime in December 2013.