The Emery Center isn’t just the history of the Emery Street School, of Dalton or of black culture.
For Raleigh Sprowl, it’s also the history of him. And not just him, but of all the students who once attended the school.
“I have great-grandchildren, and I want them to be able to see this,” said Sprowl, a Dalton resident who graduated from Emery Street School in 1953. “They can see the history of me here. We can’t just let this go to waste.”
City officials told Emery Center representatives if they had not made much-needed repairs to the building by the end of 2013, it would have to close its doors. The center has been housed in the school building, which was constructed in 1924, since 2003. The building is owned by the city of Dalton, and the lease signed by the two parties says the center is responsible for maintenance.
The center, a nonprofit multicultural heritage center, did not have the money to make the repairs. Curtis Rivers, director of the center, feared not enough funds would be raised in the given time period.
And they weren’t.
Yet, the center remains open. The center’s deadline was extended to a date not yet set.
“Curtis has been very proactive,” Dalton City Administrator Ty Ross said. “He has designed a meeting to give us a status report about their fundraising. They’ve made substantial progress. ... We’re going to have a sit-down with his team and see where they are going forward.”
Ross said city officials never wanted to see the center close. He plans to talk to council members at Monday’s meeting to schedule the meeting with Rivers.
“We want everybody to get on the same page and the same mindset and be motivated toward improvement,” Ross said. “My hope is that we’re getting there. We’re very much in support.”
Ross said it’s up to council members whether any city funds will be provided to help with the repairs, estimated to cost at least $80,000.
“The measure is going to be the commitment and progress made by the Emery Center folks,” Ross said.
Repairs include a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system and repairs to the roof as well as a fire alarm upgrade. The first step was to replace the HVAC system, estimated to cost $60,000.
Rivers wouldn’t provide a total on how much has been raised so far, but said he hasn’t reached the initial $60,000.
“We have money coming in,” he said. “We’ve had donations as small as $10 and as large as $5,000. I appreciate those who have donated. ...We’re not soliciting money for our daily business. We need it now for repairs. We’ve never asked for $60,000 before.”
Rivers had asked members of the Dalton City Council for help with funds.
“We’ve had meetings and decided what was necessary, set parameters on what was to be raised by the Emery Center and what the city would do,” said council member George Sadosuk. “So far those parameters have not been met. ... It was supposed to have been done by the end of the year, and the end of the year has come and gone.”
Sadosuk referred questions about the specifics of the parameters to council member Gary Crews, who said he didn’t have the information immediately available Thursday afternoon. Crews said he doesn’t know where he stands on approving funds for the center currently because he wants to wait until after the meeting with Rivers to decide.
“I’m sure if they’ve got some folks that are stakeholders, ready to step up, I’m confident the council will be open to look at any proposal they may have,” Crews said. “I feel like if there’s an interest, and there’s interest in matching (funds), I’m sure the council will be open to it.”
The Emery Street School was the only black school in the community. Schools were integrated in the 1960s and the building was used as City Park Junior High for several years.
Debra Parks Hall was a student at Emery Street when schools were desegregated.
“I was only here three years, but they were memorable years,” Hall said. “It seems like the teachers were more personable. You knew how to behave and you were respectable. It was an extension of our home.”
When schools were integrated, Hall attended Fort Hill.
“Everything was so different,” she said. “Me being there was just as different for them as it was for me. I’d walk back down that hill. I did not want to be there.”
Hall said she is doing all she can to help preserve the center.
“It’s part of our heritage, not just our history,” she said.
Sprowl said he hopes the city and center officials can reach an agreement so the center can remain open.
“I don’t want to see this go,” he said. “All of our memories are right here. The things we received to venture out in life, all our principles, we received here. ... I hold this place very highly. This is the only place that has our history.”
Sprowl said anytime his family or friends visit from out of town, they want to see the school.
“This building identifies us,” he said. “Curtis and Patricia Rivers and others who have worked on this building have made this kind of like a sanctuary. I don’t want the city to forget it.”
Rivers said if anyone wants a tour of the facility he will arrange it “at their convenience, not mine.”
“Any questions, to do a tour, call me, I would be happy to show it to them,” he said. “It’s a multi-cultural center, not just for African-Americans. This is not just for us, but for all of Northwest Georgia.”