SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County leaders are moving forward with plans to revitalize the former Rosenwald School after the property was left abandoned and vacant for years.
If you look past the broken windows and doors and through the cobwebs, you can see what the Rosenwald School used to be. The property was built in 1932 to serve African American students in Seminole County.
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Connie McMillion-Thomas attended Rosenwald from first through eighth grade.
“At the time for the Altamonte area, this was the only option,” McMillion-Thomas said.
McMillion-Thomas graduated in 1960. She said she remembers how the school served as a hub for the community.
“Rosenwald was the resource center for the Black community,” McMillion-Thomas said.
Cora Snead attended elementary school at Rosenwald.
“This particular place means a lot to us. This is the only school I ever remember,” Snead said. “Our roots are here.”
Snead returned to Rosenwald after college to teach. She shaped young minds until the school integrated during the 1970s.
The property was then converted into a special needs school. The school district permanently shut the doors and locked the gates in 2011 because it was no longer being used for alternative programming.
“When this school left, we were kinda lost for what to do and how to do with the area,” Snead said.
Irvin Simpson is a former Rosenwald student. He is now the president of the East Altamonte Community Association. He said it’s bittersweet to see what the property has turned into.
“You drive by so many years and we keep saying, ‘We want to do this, we want to do that, why can’t we be doing something with the property for the community?’” Simpson said.
Simpson said the community has been working with county leaders for years to revitalize the property.
“Now, to see the whole thing starting to come to life, it’s exciting,” he said.
In 2019, the county purchased the property from the school district for $1.7 million.
Seminole County District 4 Commissioner Amy Lockhart, who represents the area, said since then, they’ve held several community meetings.
“Many folks from the private sector and the public sector come together to talk about what is the best use of this property for the entire community,” Lockhart said.
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Lockhart said the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down plans for the property, but the project is picking up steam this year. In June, the board of commissioners accepted the Rosenwald Redevelopment Study and directed county staff to prepare a scope of work based on the concept plan recommended by county staff and Renaissance Planning.
The plans call for renovating three of the existing buildings and demolishing the rest of the property to build a new community center.
“When it’s completed, we want this place to be a place that this community feels proud of again, that can be a place where they can come do anything that they want to help improve their lives,” Lockhart said.
Rebecca Hammock, the development services director for Seminole County, said the county has earmarked $3 million for the redevelopment project.
“Of course, it will take a lot more funding than that and that’s where we need our partner, the private partner, as well as the county... looking at grant opportunities,” Hammock said.
A final cost for the project has not been determined yet. Hammock said they still need to determine several costs, including renovation, design and construction expenses.
“There are a lot more steps that have to happen before we’ll know a total budget,” Hammock said.
The county said plans for the redevelopment include affordable housing, an events center, as well as space to offer educational and senior programs. It could also feature space for the health department and a sheriff’s office substation.
“Whether it’s learning or celebrating life events, we want this to be the place for them to do that,” Lockhart said.
Snead hopes the property will become a community hub once again.
“I want to see components of education,” Snead said. “It should be information going out to the community.”
McMillion-Thomas said she is excited to preserve Rosenwald’s history while looking forward to the future.
“We realize it’s going to take time. We realize that, but I’m pleased, and a lot of other community members are pleased,” McMillion-Thomas said.
Lockhart said the county will complete the project in phases, adding it could take up to five years to finish.
The county is posting updates on the project at www.seminolecountyfl.gov/rosenwald.