NEW DESIGNS: Team works to revitalize historic high school

Published 3:00 am Saturday, August 4, 2018

A team of design professionals from a variety of backgrounds was hard at work at the Troy Public Library Friday crafting concepts for a redesign of Academy Street High School.

The team mingled with members of the community at a meeting Thursday night to gain insight about what the school means to them and how they would like to see the historic facility used in the future.

Many of the members of the community were former students of the African-American school in downtown Troy.

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The school has not operated in years after segregation ended, but many members of the community cherish memories of going to school there and long for the school site to be revitalized for reunions and other community activities.

The team of professionals are in Troy to offer free renderings and concepts for the city, a project called DesignPlace offered by Design Alabama, which is a group of Alabama designers looking to enhance design within the state.

Gina Clifford, director of Design Alabama, said the residents’ feedback is now being turned into designs for the site.

“It’s very obvious that this is a committed community dedicated to preserving the history and passion of the school,” Clifford said. “We’re tying the past into the future.”

Clifford said the team was able to gain resident feedback through conversations Thursday night as well as post-it notes with suggestions about programming for the facility, which ranged from a community center to an art museum to a center for vocational training.

Jeremy Cutts, an architect with William and Blackstocks Architects in Birmingham, said his main focus Thursday was the programming of the school building.

“We are digesting feedback and finding a good way to incorporate that into the existing building,” Cutts said. “For instance, some residents mentioned that they’d like to see it be a community center and that they would have class reunions of 150 or more people there. We’re seeing if the auditorium suits that need and then others talked about vocational training, so we’re seeing how that might fit into the existing space.”

Collier Neeley of the Alabama Historic Commission said that there’s a balance between preserving the history of the building while still updating it for a modern use.

“We want to enhance the current character while communicating that this is something new and fresh,” Neeley said. “We want to respect the heritage and tie it into the rest of the community.”

Mary Shell, also of the Alabama historical Commission, said she is there as well to ensure that the city’s historic resources are tapped correctly.

“I’m here to be a voice that ensures we’re not affecting historic buildings or places,” Shell said. “In a small town, things like this are really unique assets.”

One of the main issues being worked with early on in the session was connectivity to the site and how everything ties together downtown and in the city as a whole.

Lea Ann Macknally, landscape architect with Macknally Land Design, said she was working on connectivity to the rest of the downtown area.

“We’re looking at a five-minute walking radius from the square,” Macknally said, referring to a map that Neeley was creating. “We’re looking at parking at areas like churches, which are not fully occupied all the time, and identifying those as potential shared-parking spaces.”

Macknally said they were also working on where sidewalks could be improved and street trees and pedestrian lighting could be put in to enhance the walkability downtown.

How does that relate to Academy Street?

“We’re taking a holistic approach,” Neeley said. “Everything revolves around Academy Street.”

“We don’t want to plan in bubbles,” Macknally added. “We’re looking at the overall goal of what’s connected.”

Brian Bias, community planner at Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, was also working on connectivity, specifically looking at streets going east-west connecting Troy University, downtown and the Academy Street High School. He pointed out the bike-share program being implemented at the college campus as one consideration for how connectivity may change in coming years.

“We would anticipate more bike traffic,” Bias said. “People will need safe places to ride.”

Angela Stiff, creative director, was working on the branding aspect of the school.

“What I’m looking at is how do we tell that story?” Stiff said.

One of the pieces Stiff was working on at the time was a sort of slogan for the school, lifted from the original Alma Mater.

Also on the design team is architect Nolanda Hatcher, architect with Studio 2H in Birmingham.

The team will be available at the Troy Public Library from noon t 1:30 p.m. today with their designs and renderings displayed for the community to give feedback on.

Once the team leaves, Clifford said the members will have another month or so to fine-tune their work and then a final report will be sent to the city.

Once the city has the report, it can be used to help gain grant or other funding to bring the project to fruition, Clifford said.