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Contributing Writer

The St. Landry School Board is expected in January to determine the estimated costs for renovating a 100-year-old Rosenwald school building once used by parish wide African-American students who otherwise were prevented from obtaining an education during the early 20th century.

School officials voted in August to proceed with the state-approved, grant-funded project for the wooden school building which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Located on the Plaisance Middle School campus since it was constructed in 1919, the former four classroom building is the only Rosenwald school building at its original location remaining in Louisiana, board member Raymond Cassimere told school officials during the August meeting.

With the assistance of state lawmakers, Cassimere said the state last year appropriated $500,000 to spend on refurbishing the Rosenwald structure which recently has been used as a storage building on the Plaisance campus.
The state, Cassimere said, will send the appropriated money back to the School District after the project is completed with parish funds.

District school officials have already assessed the interior of the building and spent money to deal with any potential asbestos issues that might exist, said Operations Director Claudia Blanchard.

Blanchard told a Building, Lands and Sites Committee in December that there is not much time remaining to begin revitalizing the building, which Cassimere said served as a primary classroom until the brick building on the current Plaisance campus was completed in 1953.

The state expects the project to be completed by June in order to qualify for the grant funding, said Blanchard.
Cassimere said he and other members of a committee formed 14 years ago to help save the school building and its historical importance. Cassimere said the group tried numerous times to obtain grants that would allow the Rosenwald school to be revitalized.

In July, 2021, Cassimere said a group of local lawmakers that included state representative Dustin Miller and state senator Gerald Boudreaux managed to obtain the grant.

According to several websites that trace the histories of the Rosenwald schools, about one-third of the South’s African American students between 1917 and 1928 were educated in Rosenwald classrooms similar to the one built and placed on school district property in Plaisance.

The schools were built following a collaborative effort by Booker T. Washington head of the predominantly African American Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, a white philanthropist and president of Sears Roebuck.
After schools were desegregated in the South and nationwide in 1954, many Rosenwald schools began to close, as African-American students transitioned into classrooms that were previously all white.

Many of the Rosenwald schools have been demolished, with about 10 percent estimated to remain standing today, the websites agree.