73-year-old historic Washington to be expanded to full high school
By Marilyn Bowden
A $12 million expansion to Booker T. Washington, one of Miami's oldest public schools, will return it to its original status as a high school in time for its 75th anniversary, said Eric Laventure, project manager for the Miami-Dade County School Board.
Booker T. Washington, 1200 NW Sixth Ave., was converted from a middle school to a high school beginning with the 1999 school year through an administrative order, he said.
"It was a high school many years ago," he said. "A promise was made to restore it to the community. We are fulfilling that."
Marvin Dunn, author of Black Miami in the 20th Century, said the school is "very significant to the black community and the community at large."
It was built in 1927 as the city's first high school for black students, he said. Before the original Booker T. Washington Senior High School opened its doors, Mr. Dunn said, parents had to send their children away to boarding schools if they wanted to educate them beyond the 8th grade.
It thrived as an all-black high school until 1967, he said, when it was reclassified as a junior high school as a result of desegregation.
The original building went into decline, he said, and in 1989 a new Booker T. Washington Middle School opened next door. By that time its student population was 71% Hispanic and 28% black.
"I see old people around Overtown today who speak so fondly about Booker T. Washington," Mr. Dunn said. "The community once revolved around it.
"It's now suffering from the devastation that the construction of I-95 caused to Overtown, because it's isolated on the other side of interstate. That's part of the price the community paid for progress."
Although the demographics have changed and the school is now heavily Hispanic, he said, "we're lucky that it's being resurrected as a high school.
"It's very important emotionally and historically, and I'm very glad to see it being brought back."
Mr. Laventure said the new high school will accommodate a standard population of around 2,700 students.
Tom Carlson, a principal of McHarry Architects, which is designing the conversion, said new facilities made necessary by the school's new classification include "a regulation track and field environment, a new gymnasium that seats 1,500, an 825-seat auditorium with a balcony and a three-story classroom that will also function as an emergency shelter for hurricanes."
He said the result will be a series of buildings in a campus-like setting that "will pay some respect to the history surrounding Booker T. Washington."
Mr. Carlson said the school's long use as a community center was taken into account in the design of the gymnasium.
Although the bulk of the renovations involved new construction, he said, some changes will be made to the existing facility as well.
"The main entrance today is also the main bus drop-off area," he said. "Now the bus drop-off will be to the west and the main entry, what might be called the `parent approach,' remains on the north side.
"We think it will be a very attractive expansion and create an interesting 3-D effect."
Mr. Laventure said the school board wanted to change the main entrance so that it fronts Seventh Avenue rather than Sixth.
"We're also giving the playing fields a frontage on Seventh Avenue," he said.
Mr. Carlson said construction of the new facilities is under way, with completion of the classrooms targeted for the beginning of the school year. The auditorium, the last phase of the project, is planned to be ready in time for the school's 75th anniversary about a year from now, he said.
Mr. Carlson said McHarry also recently finished renovations to Allapattah Elementary School, 4700 NW 12th Ave.,that included a new media center, arts center and music building.