PRAIRIE – Instead of hosting sixth-graders for the past decade, the former Prairie Elementary School building has steadily deteriorated and attracted vandals and copper thieves since its closure. The last time it hosted a class was at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
It was vacated because of a reassignment of grade levels throughout the Aberdeen School District beginning in School Year 2010-2011. Then school district superintendent Chester Leigh said the school building could find a possible use as a community center.
A decade since that statement, members of the Prairie RCDC now have ownership and future plans to revitalize the building to serve that function.
“It’s been exactly 10 years since they’ve had classes out here and actually they were serving fifth and sixth grade then,” said club member Eric Jonas of the school’s last semester when Aberdeen Middle School students were relocated to other campuses following the discovery of asbestos in that building. “This building was used a lot by the community for repasts. When they first closed it, they said it would be available, then they said they had to have rent, and then it ultimately became a liability.”
During it’s May 18 meeting, the Aberdeen School Board approved to accept the Prairie RCDC’s bid to purchase the building.
“We’ve been working on it for two years. In spring 2018, we got it appraised and have had interest throughout. We’re happy to work with the RCDC. That building is very near and dear to their hearts, and they’ll use it to the best of their ability. We’re happy to collaborate with them,” said Aberdeen School District Superintendent Jeff Clay.
Jonas said after the electricity was turned off at the building, its security system wasn’t functional, which caused vandals to come in. Walls inside classrooms, the hallway, library and auditorium are scribbled with graffiti. Additionally, windows have been broken out, and sections of ceiling tiles are hanging down.
Regardless of the building’s disarray, the Prairie RCDC sees its potential.
“I see a place where the older people in the community can come in the mornings to spend some time together and in the afternoon, an after school program for the children. They can be dropped off here, and we can help with homework and things they’re having problems with at school,” said Prairie RCDC President Gwendolyn Snow Blake. “It’s such a waste for this building to just sit here and not be used.”
Blake mentioned the opportunity to start a Boys and Girls Club in the building also.
Club member Patricia Howell added it’s an ideal place to host entertainment acts. In the past few years, the annual RCDC-sponsored Prairie Fun Day each June has drawn an increased number of people from Monroe County and surrounding areas for food; arts and crafts; political speakings; a car show; and live gospel and R&B acts.
“One thing I’d like to do is use a classroom as a museum using some of Brent Coleman’s old Gulf Ordnance Plant research and anybody else who’d like to donate something dealing with agriculture – just something to capture the community’s history,” Jonas said.
Howell said it’s important to secure funds and grants to help move the renovation project forward into the future.
When the school building was in use, the Prairie RCDC contributed through efforts such as the first curtains for the stage, an outside security light for the parking lot and the installation of the first telephone years ago.
The school building was erected in the 1959-1960, when Lester Miley was Aberdeen School District superintendent.
James Paul Chandler and other club members recalled when the school’s property was the site of a different African-American school.
“There was a Prairie Separate School District at one point,” Jonas said.
He said the original school building was two stories before it was torn down to make room for this building.
Through the years, the former Prairie Elementary School building was used for different grades other than just sixth grade for Aberdeen School District students. All-in-all, the building has 16 classrooms, and it includes a gymnasium.