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Old school, new life

What was once a high school and elementary school teaching life lessons to scores of students will continue to create history in another way after a celebration of the Washington-Coleman Community Center grand opening on Saturday.

The building that once housed Booker T. Washington High School and Washington-Coleman Elementary School and currently houses pre-K classes, underwent a $2.2 million facelift.

The community center was designed to provide a safe environment for residents to engage in leisure activities such as arts and crafts as well as senior citizen activity groups and a classroom and activity center to enhance the effectiveness of the Mentor-Role Model Program.

With the history surrounding the school building in mind, every effort was made to preserve and celebrate that history, with exhibits celebrating the history of Booker T. Washington High School, M.H. Coleman Grammar School, Washington-Coleman Elementary School and the Civil Rights in Education Trail on-site.

A fully-equipped computer lab at the center to be available to the general public also is planned at the community center.

Odell Thompson, the only remaining member of the Booker T. Washington High School Class of 1942, recalled a small school with only two classrooms separated by sliding doors.

Out of a class of 35, six graduated, three boys and three girls, the majority of the boys being called into service during World War II, she recalled.

“The only athletes we had were basketball, but they were champions,” said Thompson.

“This is America, the vision that has gone into this place,” Thompson said in referring to the community center.

South Boston Mayor Ed Owens, himself a student at Washington-Coleman Elementary School, said more important than any subject taught were the life lessons his teachers conveyed to their students, including humility before God, love and respect.

“I hope this will be a source of pride in our community,” said Owens, who referred to the planning and construction of the community center as a team effort.

Owens referred to Town Manager Ted Daniel as the “MVP” of the team.

“Without his hard work and perseverance, this project would not have happened,” Owens pointed out, pointing to the countless times Daniel had visited the construction site.

“This is a community center, and community is what it’s all about,” Daniel remarked.

“In the future, this could be a place to go to, and to me the future is a place you create, whether a personal future or community future.”

The office for the Mentor-Role Model program located in the Community Center will serve as an anchor for the area, according to David Martin, board president for the group.

“It means a lot to have this facility,” said Martin, “We’ve never had a home like this.  The Mentor-Role Model Program instills hope, and I know it’s going to have a great future.”

Construction of the Community Center marked the completion of Phase II of the entire project.

Phase I construction included the renovation and upgrade of the pre-K section of the facility with secure fencing and separate off-street parking.

Phase II included the renovation of the 1930-era and historic section of the old school into a year-round community center facility for exclusive use by the town’s parks and recreation department. 

Phase III, which has not yet been funded, is the construction of a new, modern gymnasium to accommodate the overload of indoor recreation demand currently experienced at the South Boston Recreation Center on Broad Street.