ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Tucked away in St. Augustine, out of sight from most people, is a schoolhouse that once served African Americans before the racial integration of schools.
It operated as the New Augustine Colored Elementary School #36 from 1901 to 1959, according to a historic maker in front of the building on N. McLaughlin Street.
Debi Redding is the Executive Director of the Homeless Coalition in St. Augustine. She led First Coast News on a tour of the building Thursday.
"This place needs a lot of work," she said.
The Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County bought the two-story building in April 2018.
"People told us we were crazy for buying this old building because it needs to much work," Redding said. "Really I think a lot of people thought it needed to be torn down."
But she and the Homeless Coalition saw potential.
"It would be great for housing low income," she said, showing the large classrooms.
Some of the rooms have already been turned into affordable housing apartments.
The coalition also saw the need to preserve history.
"We've got this old school that’s been standing, but no one knows a lot about the history and we should," she says.
The Homeless Coalition wants to turn part of the building into a museum about the school which served African American elementary students before the racial integration of schools. To do that, the Coalition is collecting photos and memorabilia from that time period.
Some people who went to school remember bringing their lunch because there was no cafeteria here. And of course, they didn't take a bus there, they walked.
Carolyn Shorter, minister of the church which meets inside the building, said the teachers back then were very strict.
"They were very stern! There was no room for misbehaving," she laughed.
Shorter did not attend the school, but she’s heard stories.
"I appreciate the Homeless Coalition coming in and buying this building. I really do," she said.
Now, the coalition needs funding to help restore the building.
"If we don’t get money, nothing will happen here. It’s just going to sit," Redding said. She estimates they will need about $200,000.
Shorter said, "I’m just praying and hoping that somebody out there can hear our cry… that we really need the help here."
Help to assist people who need affordable housing and help to save a forgotten piece of the past.
If you would like to donate, contact the Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County at http://homelesscoalitionstjohns.com