Hartford's Long-Planned African American Cultural Center Gets $1 Million State Grant
By JESSE RIFKIN
June 15, 2012
HARTFORD —— An African American cultural center planned for the long-abandoned Northwest School building has gotten a huge boost with the approval of a $1 million state grant.
The money, approved by the State Bond Commission earlier this month. will be used to help renovate the old school on Albany Avenue, which was built in 1891.
The city has committed $307,000 towards the John E. Rogers African American Cultural Center project. Along with money from historical societies, such as $50,000 from the Connecticut Trust, the center is progressing towards meeting the estimated $3 million cost of the envisioned project, said the center's interim president, Meryth Dean Andrews, who took over last year after the death of President Barbara Alleyne.
"We added some new members to our board who were more committed to raising funds," Andrews said. "Not that the old members weren't committed, but it had reached the point where we weren't even sure who in government to talk to anymore."
"There was growing community sentiment and growing government sentiment on the center's behalf," said state Sen. Eric Coleman, who represents Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor.
First, the school needs to be renovated. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, has asbestos and lead contamination, and water has gotten into the basement in places.
Much of the school was demolished after 1978, when a nearby school opened, according to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. But the remaining structure is Hartford's oldest surviving school building.
"About four years ago, the city passed a resolution granting us the building rights for 33 years for $1 a year," said John Stewart, the former city fire chief and a longtime proponent of the center. "The delays have been because of money. It's always because of money."
A fundraising gala is planned for September.
Andrews believes the center, founded in 1991 but lacking a permanent location, is necessary for a thorough understanding of African American history in the state.
"We need to provide an understanding of the richness of our culture and the positive contributions African Americans have made to the city and state," she said.
For now, the center's exhibits and collections are housed across the street in the Colin Bennett Building. They had previously been housed in the Hartford Medical Society building on Scarborough Street.
Collection topics include the Tuskegee Airmen, Afircan Americans in state politics, and African American doctors and dentists.
Possible plans for the revitalized center include audio-visual displays, exhibits and collections, and lecture areas.
"I am hoping it will open in 2014," said Andrews, "but I might be aggressive in my thinking."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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