What remains today of John S. Dawson High School is a nearly forgotten building overgrown with vegetation, its windows broken and hallways empty.
Nearly forgotten, that is, if not for Dawson’s grandson, Ken Dawson, and about 100 others who are part of the John S. Dawson Alumni Association and Foundation, which formed about four years ago.
Located on La. 66, about a mile from U.S. 61 north of St. Francisville, the old school building has become the focus of a revitalization project, according to Henry Hardy, president of the Association/Foundation.
John S. Dawson High School was named after John Sterling Dawson, 1871-1950, an African-American educator who began his 58-year teaching career in the Laurel Hill community of West Feliciana Parish.
The school was the first established institution to offer high school-level instruction to West Feliciana black youth and opened in 1951, said Ken Dawson, of the West Feliciana Parish African-American Heritage Task Force.
In 1962, a 30-classroom building for younger students was constructed nearby and consolidated the parish’s numerous elementary schools at the time, Dawson said.
Both schools were closed with the start of desegregation in 1969.
“For the past four years, we’ve been meeting and working toward obtaining a grant for the express purposes of cleaning up and revitalizing this school,” Hardy said.
But before the old school building can be touched, extensive cleanup must take place, including the removal of asbestos and any other hazardous materials that may exist at the site, Hardy said.
“Most schools built in the ’50s like that have asbestos,” Hardy said.
According to the EPA’s brownfields program, the grants empower communities and other stakeholders in economic development to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up and reuse brownfield sites.
A brownfield site is property, expansion, redevelopment or reuse that may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or other contaminants.
The grants provide direct funding for clean-up activities at certain properties with planned green space, recreational or other nonprofit uses, according to the brownfields and land revitalization program.
Copies of the revitalization project and brownfields grant proposals are available for review at the West Feliciana Parish Library in St. Francisville. The JSDAA/F meets at 11 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month at the town hall in St. Francisville, 11936 Ferdinand St.
Hardy invites anyone who is interested in learning more to attend the next meeting, slated for Feb. 14.
Hardy said he received word from the EPA on Jan. 13 about the group’s proposal, which is now being considered for selection.
“If we’re approved for the brownfields grant, then we will immediately move forward,” Henry said. “If we do not get the grant, then we will reapply until we are approved.”
Panels consisting of EPA staff and staff members from other federal agencies are evaluating the proposals to see how well each meets the criteria outlined. The EPA expects to select grant recipients in the spring.
Since the JSDAA/F began, members have been hosting a fellowship banquet. The fourth banquet is scheduled for April in Baton Rouge.