In Monday night’s regular meeting of the St. Augustine City Commission, Commissioner Errol Jones told Historic City News reporters and the public about what he sees as the importance of maintaining local control of the state-owned Excelsior Building in Lincolnville.
Tuesday, May 24th, the City and County commissioners met in joint session in the St. Johns County Auditorium to discuss current and upcoming projects that involve both County and City resources.
In a presentation by Darrell M. Locklear, P.E., Assistant County Administrator, it was revealed that St. Johns County, who leases the entire building from the State of Florida, intends to give up the property — not because of the rent, which is nominal, but because the lease requires the County to make any needed repairs and perform maintenance required to continue its operation.
The County has used the Excelsior Building, which is located on Martin Luther King Avenue, to house a portion of its Housing Authority — Locklear says it is too expensive to maintain separate quarters and more efficient to consolidate the Authority into a single location. Locklear asked the city to consider taking it over.
Currently a local group of residents, Friends of Excelsior, with ties to the former predominantly black school, maintain the Excelsior African American Museum and Cultural Center and provide an after-school program occupying a few-hundred square feet of space.
While commissioners Monday were reluctant, Pastor Ron Rawls of St. Paul AME Church, supported by Reverend Ron Stafford of Pastors United, said his church would like to use the property for its proposed School of Excellence.
The City has no immediate need for the property and no funding to make what will amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in air conditioning repairs alone. The majority agreed to give their blessing to the church group to negotiate with the county; however, Jones insisted that, should negotiations for the public-private venture fail, the city reconsider use of the property.
“This is a significant part of our history,” Jones said.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer