With heavy equipment on a partially cleared lot at 1000 Fort Benning Road, more than 350 alumni, Columbus leaders and supporters turned out Friday for the groundbreaking of the William H. Spencer High School.
The event came 87 years after Spencer was granted approval in 1929 from the school board to build the first High School for African-Americans, said Gwen Johnson of the class of ‘74. The new 200,000 square-foot building with 60 classrooms will replace the 38-year-old school at 4340 Victory Drive. “We are embarking on another William Henry Spencer High School,” she said.
Since the first school was built on 10th Avenue at Eighth Street, the school was located at 1830 Shepherd Drive in 1953 before its current home on Victory Drive. Regardless of the locations, Superintendent David Lewis said each has proudly stood as a tribute to the character values of Spencer. After arriving in Columbus, Lewis said he was at a luncheon when he learned about the problems with the school.
“During that time, I pledged if at all possible, we would build a new Spencer during my tenure because it was not a school I would want to place my child and I was not going to put somebody else child,” he said.
Breaking ground on the new school is a testament of public education for children in Columbus. “Just as important is the fact that I believe this is the start of revitalization for this community,” he said.
Mayor Pro-tem Evelyn Turner Pugh said some people wouldn’t have been there for the groundbreaking if Columbus Council hadn’t agreed to do a land swap with the school district . “This is going to help us economically in south Columbus,” she said.
Lewis noted the $56 million project, funded by the March 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is too big for one company but requires a joint venture.
Project architects are Hecht Burdeshaw of Columbus and 2WR of Columbus. The construction companies and managers are Freeman & Associates of Columbus and Ra-Lin & Associates of Carrollton.
The new high school with a capacity to house 1,350 students is expected to be completed by August 2018.
Patricia Hugley Green, vice-chair of the Muscogee County Board of Education, reminded supporters the district may be coming back for more money when this money runs out.
“We will come back again when this one expires,” she said. “That penny goes a long way. You are going to see the birth of a new generation of learning coming out of Spencer High School like no other,” she said.
The groundbreaking brought smiles to many alumni who are looking forward to the new facility. “I love Spencer as if it was a part of me,” said Mary Perry, 67 and a 1966 graduate of the Shepherd Drive campus. “I considered it a part of my family. I’ve got five brothers and sisters and we all graduated from Spencer. This is the beginning.”
Willie Dysick, a retired educator and graduate of the class of ‘59, recalled how he got along well with all of his teachers. “I thank the Lord we are able to build a new school on the southside of town,” he said.