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Monday, Jul 24, 2017
Education

Meacham School Razed

Photo Gallery TAMPA - With the rubble of Central Park Village serving as a backdrop and the fog-shrouded skyline of downtown Tampa peering over the oak trees, an already gutted Meacham Alternative School started to fall this morning. The occasion did not go unmarked. Nearly 80 people, including former teachers and administrators, students and about a dozen members of the family for which the school is named, were there to reminisce and to watch the beginning of the demolition. Many took bricks torn from the first dig into the southern wall. The day was bittersweet for the descendents of Christina Meacham, Tampa's first black principal, who died in 1927. Although they were saddened that the brick building, first opened in 1926 as India Street School and renamed a year later for Meacham, was about to fall, they were pleased that a new middle school to be built two blocks away will bear the Meacham name.
"It's very emotional for me," said Arndreeta Harris, great-granddaughter of Christina Meacham. The alternative school once was full of "children's voices and the sound of feet running up and down the halls. Now the halls and classrooms are silent; but only for a moment. Meacham will rise again." Doris Scott was the school's principal between 1984 and 1999. "I've been reminiscing so much," she said an hour or so before the heavy equipment tore into the school. "When I started, I had 531 children from 6 weeks old to 6 years old and a staff of 81 people." She cited academic awards the school had won over the years, both state and national. "We did so much for the kids of this community," she said. "This was a disadvantaged area. I am proud of the things we did." Harris' son, William, said his family initially objected to the plan to tear down the school that bore the name of his great-great-grandmother, but after plans evolved to build a new school and keep the name, the family agreed to the demolition. "Meacham School had to be torn down," he said. "It wasn't going to be used as a school anymore." His ancestor would have approved of the plan to relocate, he said. In 2004, the school switched from an early childhood center to an alternative school. About 160 Meacham students were transferred to North Tampa Alternative School on North Armenia Avenue. For most of its history, the Meacham school was a community beacon, a place where the children of freed slaves learned to read and write. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005 but does not have local landmark status. City preservation officials said that a 1954 remodeling destroyed the character of the two-story brick school. The lack of local designation doomed the structure to the wrecking ball. The school's demolition is to make way for progress. All around it, the Central Park Village housing project lies in rubble, being cleared for a new development overseen by Bank of America and the Tampa Housing Authority. Housing officials have said the removal of the school is crucial to the plan. The building will be replaced by a town square of stores and offices serving the 2,030 people who will eventually live in the new development. The development partners paid the county's school district $1.3 million for the building, located at 1225 India St., and handed over two acres of land north of Scott Street to build a school in exchange for the one-acre Meacham site. The new school will be named Christina A. Meacham Middle School. Many of the bricks from the façade of the old school will be used to create a walkway and memorial marker at the new school. A marker at the site of the old school also will commemorate the life of Christina Meacham, who was principal at Harlem Academy, Tampa's first black school, which was torn down in the 1970s.

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or kmorelli@tampatrib.com.

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