A much-needed funding infusion from the state is breathing new life into the Holy Rosary Institute's redevelopment campaign.

The school’s redevelopment board will receive $500,000 from the state’s capital outlay fund this coming year, with an additional $4 million set aside for distribution over the next four years.

The Holy Rosary Institute opened in Lafayette in 1913 as a Catholic school for African American girls, before becoming co-ed in 1947. The school was run primarily by the Sisters of the Holy Family, who taught local students and boarders throughout segregation. The school shuttered in 1993.

The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation classified the site as one of the state’s most endangered historic buildings in 2014. Dustin Cravins, president of the Holy Rosary Redevelopment Board, said the three-story main building’s roof is close to collapsing on itself and the walls need to be shored up to prevent further decay.

Securing state funding was a critical step toward saving the building, he said.

“Without (the state money) I don’t want to say it wouldn’t happen, but it would be highly unlikely. This money seals the deal for this Holy Rosary property,” Cravins said.

The money from the state, coupled with a $450,000 grant from the National Park Service, is propelling phase one of the building’s redevelopment, which focuses on stabilizing the structure and reframing the interior, Cravins said.

The board is coordinating with Lafayette Consolidated Government to complete an environmental study on the property. Next, they’ll begin an open bidding process to secure a contractor to complete the first phase of restoration. Cravins said the group is in talks with the Community Foundation of Acadiana and other stakeholders to assist.

The goal for the project is to build out a state-of-the-art community center that will include an urgent care facility, educational space, theater, a museum focused on African American and Creole history and Holy Rosary’s contributions, and retail space.

Cravins said returning the property to its former high standing in the community is the best way to honor the former school and promote its civil rights mission.

“I think it’s important for folks to be able to go somewhere and visualize how not that long ago these injustices occurred. It’s not to begrudge the subject, but an opportunity to ensure that we don’t go back there,” Cravins said. “I think it’s a vital part of telling our story and passing down the history of our communities to our children in an appropriate and respectful and truthful manner.”

Rep. Terry Landry was one of the Acadiana delegates who helped secure the funding. Landry, who grew up in New Iberia, moved to Lafayette about 43 years ago and lives near the school. He said he frequently sees visitors reading the school’s historical marker and taking pictures of the property.

A practicing Catholic, Landry said the school has an important place in the region’s faith community. Saint Katharine Drexel helped provide funding for the main school building and Venerable Mother Henriette Delille founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, the order that operated the school and maintains ownership of the property.

Regardless of religion, the school’s civil rights history is something everyone can respect, he said.

“It’s important the African American community know the value of that history and use it as a lightning rod as we try to make our community a better place to live,” Landry said.

Landry originally campaigned for state funding for the project in 2013. He proposed having a percentage of Lafayette Parish’s hotel and motel tax rebate devoted to the project, but the measure was killed in the state Senate.

The majority of the parish’s hotel and motel tax rebate dollars go to the Cajundome and are used to pay construction debt and routine maintenance and upgrade costs, according to a 2013 Acadiana Advocate article.

Now that state funding is secured, Landry said it’s important people feel empowered by the funding and recognize this isn’t a gift from the state; it’s their tax dollars being used to fund a community project on the north side, just like state dollars have been devoted to Moncus Park and other projects on the south side.

“People in that part of the city pay taxes. People who went to Holy Rosary and live in the community pay taxes. This is people’s tax dollars coming back in a specific project,” he said.

The estimated cost to stabilize the building and complete the first phase of construction is roughly $1.4 to $1.5 million, Cravins said.

Instead of funding the project in one lump sum, Landry said he requested the state dollars be spread across several years to ensure steady funding support throughout every project phase. He also held back because he wants the community to step forward and support the project the way state and local government has, he said.

Cravins said the board aims to raise about $400,000 from the community to round out the funding needed to complete the first phase. Fundraising over the years took a back burner to securing steadier funding streams, partially because of the large sum the group needed to raise. It’s difficult to reach $1 million fundraising goal by selling barbeque sandwiches, he said.

Another factor was people’s sustained confidence in the project, he said.

“People want to have confidence that this isn’t going to be an exercise in failed attempts,” Landry said.

There’s been several false alarms about Holy Rosary’s salvation over the years. Redevelopment attempts and campaigns have been pursued for years with slow progress, for numerous reasons. In 2017, when the group was awarded the National Park Service grant, the announcement stoked excitement but without construction following soon after the thrill diminished.

“I’ve learned through this process that we’ve probably — in an attempt to keep folks engaged and feeling like something is going on — we’ve been premature in some of our announcements. But what do you do?” Cravins said.

Cravins said he understands people’s reluctance, but the project is happening. Like a lot of things, it’s a slow grind, he said. Once construction equipment is present, he, Landry and other stakeholders said they’re confident community members will rally around the project.

“It’s incumbent upon us. It’s important that the community step forward and do our part and put our money where our mouth is,” he said.

Cravins said the group wants more than the community’s money.

They want people to feel ownership of the project and want to ensure its eventual services meet the community’s needs. The group will be announcing future town hall sessions and meetings to get feedback and hear people’s ideas for what they’d like to see at the renewed Holy Rosary site.

“We’re hopeful folks are going to get on board,” he said.

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Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com