‘It’s been sitting vacant:’ Seminole County to redevelop site of former African American school

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A project to redevelop a school for African American students is moving forward, but residents of the East Altamonte community said it’s not moving fast enough.

Seminole County leaders are planning to transform the Rosenwald School into a community center.

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Irvin Simpson remembers attending the school in the mid-1970s as a kindergartner.

“The buses would pull up and drop us off in the front,” Simpson said.

He has now returned to be a leader in the community and currently serves as the East Altamonte Association President.

“So we’re going to do what we can to keep the history and everything, the new development going on. We’re going to try to merge them all together,” he said.

The Rosenwald School originally opened in the 1930s to serve the thriving African American community. It was then integrated during the 1970s. The school permanently shut its doors and locked the gates in 2011.

“And it’s been sitting vacant ever since,” Simpson said.

Seminole County purchased the Rosenwald School from the school district in 2019 with plans to redevelop the property. Since then, Simpson said the community has been working with the county on what they would like the site to be.

“A medical facility hub, police hub, a resource center, a library, an events center, maybe some senior housing,” he said.

County officials held a community meeting Tuesday night to finalize the master plan, which includes renovating three of the existing buildings and demolishing the rest to build a new community center.

Rebecca Hammock, the county’s development services director, said county officials have set aside $3 million for the project, but it will likely cost more. She adds it could take three to five years before the new center opens, which includes time for designing, rezoning and construction.

“If we can get it done faster, that’s great. I just don’t want to give an unrealistic time frame. The hope is if there is funding available that it can happen sooner,” Hammock said. “Everybody’s intent is to get this done so it is an asset to the community.”

While Simpson said he is happy to see some movement, he said he is disheartened by the timeline.

“After we’ve been discussing this and you know this is what we want and you’re saying you want this for us and you’re just excited to make this happen for us, I just don’t understand why it’s going to take so long,” Simpson said.

The next step is for Seminole County commissioners to approve the project so county staff can start requesting bids from contractors. The commission is set to take up the project during a meeting in late May.

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