Rosenwald site eyed for heritage center: ‘Practice school’ needs restoration

When it was built with Rosenwald funding on what was then the campus of the Elizabeth City Colored Normal School in 1921, the “practice school” was the place where African-American college students learned the craft of teaching.

Under the watchful eyes of their instructors, students enrolled at the Normal School would practice their teaching skills on neighborhood children in the large frame building before taking jobs in the state’s then-segregated black schools.

The practice school building has been moved several times and gone on to serve a number of other functions — for a while it housed a cosmetology school before it became host to an ROTC center for student cadets.

Despite its changing uses and sites, however, the practice school has remained a place for education.

And now, thanks to ECSU and group of community and regional partners, the former practice school is being reinvented again — this time as an African-American Heritage Center for northeastern North Carolina.

The goal of the renovation project, say organizers, is to create a resource center for researchers of African-American history as well as an interpretive site for the public, helping connect people to the rich history of black communities in the region.

Russ Haddad, special assistant to ECSU Chancellor Thomas Conway, said ECSU officials believe the center will bring both visitors and prospective students to the ECSU campus.

The center also would help make Elizabeth City itself more of a destination by offering visitors a living history site they can walk through and see up-close. Haddad said Elizabeth City has a historic walking tour that provides views of historic homes from the outside but doesn’t have a good site for seeing the inside of a historic building.

One of the things project organizers are working on is a reliable estimate of the restoration work’s cost. The current estimate — which Haddad acknowledged is basically an educated guess — is at least $650,000.

Restoration of the building and development of the center is expected to be a phased-in, multi-year project, and the timetable is still being worked out.

Although a degree of restoration is required, Charles Reed, an associate professor of history at ECSU, said much of the original structure for the practice school remains “to a degree that it’s really impressive.”

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(Daily Advance, 2/18/18)