Education

Transformation of old Russell School into community center to begin soon

Charlie Lanter, manager of program development at the Community Action Council described the changes coming to  Russell School Community Service Center in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, July 13, 2010.   Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Charlie Lanter, manager of program development at the Community Action Council described the changes coming to Russell School Community Service Center in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff HERALD-LEADER

Seven years after the doors closed on Russell Elementary School, an $8.2 million renovation will create a multifaceted community center.

Renovation of the building at Fifth and Upper streets will begin soon, transforming classrooms into a child-care center, and the gym and the rest of the school into 27 apartments for seniors or those with disabilities.

The project is funded through a patchwork of government grants that each support part of the mission of what has been dubbed Russell School Community Service Center, said Jack Burch, executive director of the Community Action Council. The council has joined with the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County for the effort. Burch said the Urban League will oversee the apartments.

The construction will be in two phases. The child-care and community center are scheduled to be completed by spring, he said, and the apartments by fall 2011.

The proximity of the apartments to the child-care center will allow seniors and preschoolers to come together in a way that is beneficial to both, Burch said. For example, tenants might be recruited to be part of the Foster Grandparent program, for which they can receive a small stipend for working with young children. "They could be right here in the building," he said.

The renovation is more of a celebration because of the pivotal place the building holds in the community.

A site near the school was home to the eight-room Colored School No. 1. The school was rebuilt in the 1950s and ultimately named after G.P. Russell, a prominent black educator who supervised Lexington's African-American schools in the late 1890s. It is the last standing African-American school to be built before desegregation. An exhibit honoring the school's history will be included in the renovated building.

The plan for a new center rose out of community meetings after the elementary school closed in 2003, Burch said. It became clear, he said that "Russell School was more than a school; it was sort of the center of neighborhood life over there." The building was bought in 2005, but it took several years to get all the construction funding together.

A community advisory board will help determine the best use of 8,000 square feet of space that has not been set aside for other uses.

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