Howard Warner meeting delayed until January

by Sarah Fay Campbell


Cynthia Jenkins

The meeting of the Howard Warner committee originally scheduled for Monday has been rescheduled for Jan. 6 at 1 p.m.

The committee is in charge of making recommendations to the Newnan City Council for the future use of the historic Howard Warner school building on Savannah Street.

The purpose of Monday's meeting was to review the proposal of City Councilwoman Cynthia Jenkins to use the schoolhouse as a community center.

"Council member Jenkins is still trying to get all of the information for her written proposal," said Newnan Planning Director Tracy Dunnavant. The committee decided it would be better to wait until January, to give Jenkins more time to get the proposal together and to not try and work around committee members' schedules during the Christmas season.

Howard Warner, located on Savannah Street in a residential area just east of downtown Newnan, was the City of Newnan's high school for black students. The original building was constructed in 1935, and an addition was built in 1955. After the building was no longer used as a school, it was used as school system offices for many years. The building was vacated in 2008 and donated to the city of Newnan.

The city originally rejected the donation, because the school system set a requirement that the building be used solely as an educational facility. The school board then removed that stipulation, and the city accepted the donation.

The building needs a lot of work — even more because it has sat vacant for so long. It's estimated to cost $1.75 million to get the building up to code and ready for occupancy.

Until recently, the city has said it won't provide any of that money. Two organizations were approved, at separate times, but both plans fell apart because of funding challenges.

For a while, it seemed like the future of Howard Warner would be the same as the present — vacancy and slow decay. But early this summer, two individuals came forward with proposals, one for a Montessori school and another with a proposal for an arts and music school. Both women were enthusiastic, but neither had funding in hand.

"I think we all realize that is a huge undertaking that small non-profits just can't do," Jenkins said at the committee's October meeting.

Jenkins has long wanted the school building to be the site of the community and recreation center that is planned for the east side of the city, and that's the proposal she presented in late October. The city has $1.5 million in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax set aside for a community center. The city could apply for a Community Development Block Grant to help out, and if Coweta County goes along on the application, the grant award could be larger.

Jenkins proposed having Coweta County be the building manager, and having programs offered by the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, or both.

A city community center would have to have a recreation component, likely a gym. Jenkins proposes demolishing the 1955 section of the building and constructing a gym.

Jenkins had said previously the big hurdle in getting the Howard Warner community center going is the programing.

In fact, that was also the problem when the council was looking at other community center sites. “We never got past the program," Jenkins said in June. "Some of the council members have been very adamant” that “we’re not going to build a building unless we have a program,” Jenkins said.

When the school system first gave the building to Newnan, city officials set out to find the best use for the property. Residents of the surrounding neighborhood overwhelmingly wanted a community center, and Jenkins supported that proposal.

Instead, the council chose the Coweta Early Learning Initiative as a use for the building, in late 2008. By early 2011, that program still hadn't materialized. The city appointed the committee in the summer of 2011.

In spring of 2012, the committee recommended the building be used for the RAKoo School of Creative Learning and Artistic Expression, and the council agreed. By December, the leader of that organization had moved from Coweta, and couldn't continue the project.

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