History Being Reborn: Revitalization of David T. Howard School on track in O4W

Renovation work is fully underway on the historic David T. Howard School in the Old Fourth Ward. (Photo by Collin Kelley)

Construction has begun to rehabilitate and renovate the David T. Howard School by August 2020 into Grady High School cluster’s middle school. The $46 million project, funded by the 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), will revive Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater more than four decades after it closed.

“Any time you can bring a building back online, especially one with historical context it’s exciting for APS and the City,” Atlanta Public Schools Facilities Services Executive Director Alvah Hardy II said.

Renderings of the renovated school courtesy of APS.

The refurbished and new classrooms, instructional support spaces and common spaces will raise student capacity from 825 students to 1,375 students, assuming 25 students per classroom. Over the next two years, the scope of work will also include construction of an addition for that extra space, improved pedestrian access and flow with comprehensive ADA accessibility, parking for staff and visitors, carpool areas, landscaping, a new athletic field, and more.

“I am thrilled that APS finally is re-opening the Howard building for the Grady High School cluster’s students. This building has been largely under-used (or vacant) for decades, and it’s re-opening will bring a whole neighborhood block back to life.  It will be a great addition to the Old Fourth Ward and our larger community,” Grady High School Cluster parent Gail Price said.

David T. Howard, a former slave who founded Atlanta’s first black-owned bank, donated the 7.5 acres at 551 John Wesley Dobbs Ave., for an elementary school that opened in 1923 bearing his name. In 1948, the school became a high school that educated some legendary alumni until it closed in 1976.

“Hopefully students have a strong understanding of the distinguished alumni who graced the halls before them and are inspired to achieve their dreams standing on the shoulders of these giants – which include Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, Maynard Jackson; NBA star and basketball hall of famer, Walt “Clyde” Frazier; the only U.S. woman to win gold in the 1956 Olympics, high jumper, Mildred McDaniel Singleton; Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few,” Atlanta Board of Education Member (District 3) Michelle Olympiadis shared.

The Howard Middle School promises to be both a nod to the past and a beacon for the future. The project calls for preserving the gym, where Clyde Frazier played high school ball in the early 1960s, by restoring the windows and refinishing the old bleachers. Display cases inside the front door will also memorialize the school’s cherished past. Modernization will come from a new cafeteria, media center, and auditorium.

The re-launch of a modern school within many original walls “says a lot about the way that Atlanta thinks about its past and its history. It’s also exciting given the revitalization in the area,” Hardy said.

So far, construction is on track. As of early August, the construction team had already demolished three buildings, erected the exterior scaffolding, begun site work grading, continued installing temporary electrical power, and more.

“We are pleased the building was in pretty good shape. It just needs some stabilization and not as much brick removal as anticipated. We’re starting on the west side first because that’s where the addition will go. Things are going well,” Hardy said.

As the Howard Middle School opens in August 2020, Inman Middle School will return to it origins by housing Morningside Elementary School students, while that school undergoes extensive repair.

Inman Middle School principal Dr. Kevin Maxwell, who will guide the Grady High School cluster middle school community, including his son, through the move from Inman to Howard, is eager to embrace this significant transition.

“The David T. Howard building is more than a school, it is a cultural and historical center. I am honored, as an educator, to have the opportunity to work in a school whose history is a testament to the great character, tenacity, and integrity of its famous alumni who overcame tremendous obstacles and made history. The lessons of their lives will resonate with the staff, students, and families we serve and be at the very core of the identity of our school,” Maxwell said.

You can find detailed weekly construction updates on APS website atlantapublicschools.us.

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