Project aims to preserve Lithonia’s Bruce Street School: It’s funny, the things you remember about school. For Allene Smith Harper, it’s the sound of the bell, the smell of the kitchen, and the feeling of the chilly morning air. "We had to get up early in the morning, and it was cold," says Harper. "And the roads were dirt and rocky. And we would stand out beside the road and watch other busses go by, and we would ride by other schools that were in our neighborhood. But we couldn't attend those schools." From fourth to eleventh grade, the now 85-year-old Harper was a student at what’s known as the Bruce Street School in Lithonia. Opened in the late 1930s, it was the first public school for Black students in DeKalb County; built for the community, by the community. "In the times that this school was built, there weren't schools for African-Americans," says Revonda Cosby, executive director of the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance. "And so, men who worked not far from here at a quarry...would come home to their community after a shift, and carry these [granite blocks] until they amassed enough to clad the building." And for decades, the granite building was a place of safety and hope for Flat Rock families. But after it closed in 1955 (and students moved to another building, which remained operational until 1968), the stones school fell into ruins — a monument in danger of disappearing forever. "I kept thinking, you know, they're just going to let it fall to the ground," recalls Allene Smith Harper. But that’s not the case anymore. Today, the nonprofit Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance is working with the city and the county to ring the bell for Bruce Street again. "We took on the job of sitting down with the graduates -- many of which are still living, their children are still living, their great-grandchildren are still living -- and we asked, 'What do you want this to be?,’" says Cosby. "And they said, overridingly, giving everyone access to the public space, make it handicap accessible, don't charge a penny, and tell our story." Renderings by Atlanta-based design studio Martin Rickles Studio show the plans for the multi-use space, including an amphitheater, memory garden, and outdoor classrooms. For Allene Smith Harper, it’s a beautiful future for a place so important to the past. "I wanna see that history carried on, even though I may not be here to see it," she says. "But I would like for maybe my grandkids, your kids, anybody's kids come by, they can see the history. See where it started from. See who was here during that time." Cosby says the revitalization project comes with a $1.8 million price tag, and that fundraising is happening now. For more information on the Bruce Street School, click here.
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