Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Historic Peake High School Restoration

— Work is under way inside the old Peake School building as part of a year-long effort to restore the building to its original appearance when it was Arkadelphia’s only school for African-Americans.

“We have completed the work on the outside of the building except for some landscaping and handicap-access features,” said Pat Wright of the Arkadelphia Public School System, who remembers taking a class in the old school as an elementary student. 

“The contract for Phase II of the restoration was done in July, and work began in August inside.”  Wright, the director of special programs for the school district, said the work is now concentrating on the common areas of the old school. That work should be finished in November; then work will begin to restore the original classrooms, she said.

The Peake School has a history that goes back to 1928, when it was built using a grant from the trust of Julius Rosenwald, the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co., that provided money and plans to build schools in African-American communities in rural areas. The school was known as the Peake Rosenwald School and provided classes for the first through eighth grades.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 as an example of one of the 5,000 schools built in the U.S. by the Rosenwald trust from 1917 until 1932 for the education of African-Americans, according to materials from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program in Little Rock. Now, few of the schools remain.

When a new high school was built in 1960, the name of the Peake School was changed to Peake Elementary School for grades one through six.  When Arkadelphia schools were totally integrated in 1970, it became Peake Middle School. By 1984, the original Peake School building was used by the Head Start program, but the building had been vacant since December 2001.

“Since then, there has been nothing going on in there until the present,” Wright said.  Work started last year with repairs to the roof of the building. A second project water-proofed the basement, Wright said.

The work is being done under the direction of Twin Rivers Architects in Arkadelphia. Wright said the funding for the first phase of restoration was from the Arkansas Preservation Program, and the inside phase is being funded by $400,000 in federal stimulus funds given to the program by the school district.  Wright said plans for the building are for it to return to its role of education.

“We hope it will become part of our early childhood program, and the classrooms will be for 3-yearolds,” she said. “There is a waiting list for that program, and the list is longest for age 3.”
Additional plans call for a small museum in the building and an office for the Peake School Alumni Association.

Former students of the Peake schools held a reunion early in August in Arkadelphia. Wright, who is president of the alumni association for the schools, said the group is now looking for donations of memorabilia, such as school jackets and photographs of classes and teachers.

“The alumni want to see this done and finished,” Wright said. “This is important for the legacy of thecommunity. [The Peake building] is on the campus of [what is now Peake Elementary School], and we want those students and all students to understand about the school.”

She said once the building is restored and the museum is ready, alumni will look for ways to link Arkadelphia students with the old schools through their grandparents or other relatives.

by Wayne Bryan
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Tri-Lakes

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