Riverbend neighborhood prepares to fight for school at old Priestley site

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Uptown Messenger file photo

The old Priestley campus, photographed in January (Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger.com)

For decades an eyesore, the old Priestley school site on Leonidas now represents the neighborhood’s best hope for a community school, and the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association is preparing to fight to be heard by state officials who currently plan to sell it.

Less than a week after two members denounced local and school district officials for dropping plans to renovate Priestley, the association’s board voted Thursday night to urge school officials to return to their original promise to move James Weldon Johnson Elementary to the Priestley site, instead of the current plan to spend $16 million renovating Johnson and then selling off Priestley. The Priestley site is in a safer location on a main thoroughfare, which will make it more attractive to middle-class families in the neighborhood, the association said.

The board discussed but did not take a position on the relative merits of renovating the old Priestley building versus demolishing it and constructing a new facility there. Some neighbors said starting over on the site might be cheaper and thus easier to convince the Recovery School District to do, while others described their personal fondness for the historic structure.

A sense of urgency prevailed at the meeting. As school officials decide how to spend a nearly $2 billion FEMA settlement around the city, public meetings about plans for each campus are being held in each school board district over the next two weeks, and the District 5 meeting that includes Priestley will be held at 6 p.m. Monday.

“We really do have to organize over the weekend,” said Betty DiMarco, an association member who has been leading the discussions about Priestley.

To read our live coverage of Thursday’s meeting, click “Replay” in the box below.

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