LaFayette considers new role for JP Powell Middle

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

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The LaFayette city council once again discussed requesting the use of the former JP Powell Middle School building from the Chambers County School District during the council meeting on Monday. 

Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative Community Liaison Adrian Holloway appealed to the city to request the building be used as a community center.

“We all know that vacant and abandoned properties oftentimes are linked to increased crime rates, declining property values, and things of that nature,” Holloway said. “So right now, JP Powell may look a little bit like a liability. But what we believe is that JP Powell is actually an asset and can be an asset for the city of LaFayette and our citizens.”

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According to LaFayette Councilmember Toney Thomas, the city of LaFayette requested a meeting with the county school board to discuss the use of the JP Powell Middle School building on February 28, 2023.

The Equitable Neighborhood Initiative’s goal was to improve health outcomes and build health equity for individuals in communities with health disparities. 

The ENI was sponsored by a grant in response to COVID-19 through a partnership between the University of Alabama, Alabama Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control. 

Through surveys, ENI learned the community’s top health concerns were hypertension, diabetes and mental illness. The ENI has already dedicated $60,000 for a healing zone that will be located in LaFayette’s original city park. 

“In addition to that, we recognize that a community center would be something that we could identify that we could address these needs to have to identify,” Holloway said.

As part of the initiative’s health equity work plan, the ENI is requesting a community center to address needs such as Parks and Recreation and community youth activities, senior citizen programs and adult education. 

“Community centers are a vital component in a strong, safe, inclusive community,” Holloway said. “And some of the benefits of that; it promotes health and wellness, economic vitality, safe place for our adolescents. It positively impacts the members of our community.”

The JP Powell school site, which first opened in 1919 as the Chambers County Training School, was registered with the Alabama Historical Commission’s Historical Landmark and Heritage in Aug. 2022.

To help preserve and utilize the historical site for the community, Holloway suggested that the city use the building as a community center.

Holloway said that Dr. Arturo Menefee, project lead for the Equitable Neighborhood Initiative and executive director of the University of Alabama Center of Economic Development, would be willing to partner with the city to apply for grant funding.

Councilmember Michael Ellis said he visited a community center that was purchased from the school district in Green County and that the project would help revitalize the city.

“It’s amazing what they’ve done with that building. They’re small, smaller than us, or equal in size to us … That’s revitalizing. That’s a whole lot cheaper than us building a recreation center, building a gym and a community. Also, we’re preserving that. That place is sacred ground for I think a lot of us and a lot of people that have gone before us.”