ABOUT OUR SCHOOL
Other than the removal of the chimney, which was a familiar sight from Interstate 664 and is now a piece of architectural history, the facade of Booker T. Washington Middle School has remained remarkably unchanged as it has transformed from a creaky 78 year old to a frisky new magnet for marine science and college prep.
During construction, the building's "excellent bones" were obvious, says Thomas MacSweeney, who has been a builder for 50 years and is the construction inspector for NNPS. "It has lasted for more than 70 years and is good for another 70 as far as I can see."
MacSweeney, who was also the inspector for the division's last two school construction projects, has copies of Washington's original 1928 plans, along with those for additions built in 1935 and 1952. In his office, he displays the "beautiful" drawings by the architect Charles Robinson for the Booker T. Washington Colored School. Rooms labeled for domestic science, manual training, and the coal-fired furnace show how education-and heating-have changed over almost 80 years.
The school was the first black elementary school in the state to be named for Booker T. Washington, says Principal Debbie Fields, who hopes that the division can pursue having it registered as a national historic site. Fields had the demolition team save a piece of the original tin ceiling and some wood detailing, as well as original instructions for the coal-fired furnace. Plant services claimed the original coal furnace, which had kept students warm through conversions to oil and gas, and plans to display it at S.C.O.T.
Demolition revealed the building's sturdy construction. MacSweeney gestures to closely set solid wood beams running the length of the ceiling in the original building. "They're just not available any more," he says. John Butler, project superintendent for the Woodmasters, Inc., construction company, points to another feature of the school that will happily remain unchanged-its 10-foot-high windows. "They allow an amazing amount of light into the rooms."
The extensive renovation includes a new addition, which includes a new gym, a corridor connecting it to the original structure, new stairwells and an elevator. The gym, which was built to the right of the existing building, is barely visible from the street.
Inside, the space is almost completely reconfigured, with three new science labs, an aquatics lab, a music wing, and bright new classrooms and administrative areas. The old and new structures completely enclose a courtyard/outdoor classroom. And, a new bus lot means that students no longer have to enter or exit buses on Chestnut Avenue .
True to its emphasis on the marine environment, the school has a full aquatics lab. Ground cisterns will catch rainwater for the lab, which houses aquariums and touch tanks. Rainwater will also be used to flush the school's commodes, the first time this water-saving approach has been used in a school. Students will also be planting marshland grasses around the tidal area behind the school and developing a habitat in the outdoor classroom.
Fields has lined up Nauticus and The Cousteau Society as school partners, and arranged for an educator from the Virginia Marine Science Center to be on the premises once a week. "The school will open as a Chesapeake Bay Classroom School ," says Fields, "which means that we will be able to offer teachers staff development and students opportunities to engage in joint projects."
Fields is also working with the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, the Virginia Marine Science Center , and the Virginia Zoo on a National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration grant.
"There will be just so much opportunity for students to really connect with the marine environment," says Fields.
Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an African American political leader, educator and author. He was one of the dominant figures in African American history in the United States from 1890 to 1915.
Washington was born into slavery in Franklin County, Virginia. At the age of 9, he was freed from slavery and moved with his family to West Virginia, where he learned to read and write while working at manual labor jobs. At the age of sixteen, he went to Hampton, Virginia to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now Hampton University, to train as a teacher. In 1881, he was named as the first leader of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He was granted an honorary Masters of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1896 and an honorary Doctorate degree from Dartmouth College in 1901.
Washington received national prominence for his famous Atlanta Address of 1895, attracting the attention of politicians and the public as a popular spokesperson for African American citizens. Although labeled by some activists as an "accommodator", his work cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists helped raise funds to establish and operate hundreds of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of black persons throughout the South.
In addition to the substantial contributions in the field of education, Dr. Washington did much to improve the overall friendship and working relationship between the races in the United States. His autobiography, Up From Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read. (Learn more about Booker T. Washington at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)