APS construction jobs include updating King’s childhood school

The big brick David T. Howard Building stands forlorn and fenced off in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward.

There are a few holes in the windows and cracks on the sidewalk in front of the historic school, which closed in 1976.

But by late spring or early summer, the 7.5-acre site on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue NE will come alive when construction begins to renovate the old school and build a new addition.

In 2020, students will once again gather in the classrooms where Martin Luther King Jr. attended as a child from 1936 to 1940.

The $52 million rebirth of the vacant school is a centerpiece of roughly $125 million worth of Atlanta Public Schools building projects scheduled to begin in the coming months and paid for with a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

The decision to revive Howard, which opened as an elementary school in 1923 and then in 1948 became the city’s second African-American high school, has heartened some alumni. Many still feel a strong connection to the old building, which has a legacy of producing prominent leaders but closed because of low enrollment.

“The unity that we had going to school, like all the classes, and preserving our history is real important to most of us,” said Jeane Bagley, a member of the class of 1967.

The renovated David T. Howard Middle School will serve students in grades six, seven, and eight from the Grady High School cluster.

It will replace Inman Middle School, which district officials said is overcrowded and which could become an elementary school. Inman enrolls 1,068 students; the school building's official capacity is 850 students, or 1,025 students with portable classrooms.

Howard will be able to house 1,375 students in 55 classrooms, according to district estimates.

Older parts of the building will be preserved, said Alvah Hardy, executive director of facilities services for APS. The front, which is a mostly blank brick wall, will be enhanced with a new facade similar to one architects designed in the 1920s but which was never built.

Interior spaces that had been converted into offices or partitioned off will be turned back into classrooms.

An addition will be built on the western and southern sides of the property.

Howard boasts a rich history. The school was built on land donated by its namesake, a former slave who became a businessman and founded the city's first black-owned bank.

King attended third through sixth grade at the school, whose other former students include the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, and basketball great Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

Hardy said the district will do something to commemorate the site’s connection to King, but said he’s not sure exactly what that memorial will entail.

Marion L. Butler Hawkins attended Howard from first grade through her graduation in 1952, a period that spanned the building’s conversion to a high school. She loved her time there so much that even when she wasn’t in class she and her sister would play school using old books, pencil, and paper.

She’s thrilled that the school that played such an important part in her life will reopen.

“I am so happy, you know, because for my children all of them haven’t seen the school. Maybe they can go and just look and let mom tell the places we used to have lunch out on the playground,” Hawkins said.

Other APS school building projects slated to begin construction this spring or summer include a new school building next to the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, a largely interior renovation of Harper-Archer Middle School to serve students from Fain and Towns elementary schools, interior renovations at Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy, construction and interior renovation of Gideons Elementary School, and a new multipurpose space and renovations at Beecher Hills Elementary School.