Situated in the heart of East Durham, stands the oldest school building in the city. The historic East Durham Graded School building was built in the 1890s and was replaced by a larger school in 1910. According to City of Durham documents, the school was transformed into a workshop by the Durham Exchange Club in 1980.
By 1998, the building was left vacant.
What stood as a dilapidated building for 15 years is now a source of hope for the surrounding community. On Sept. 4, the building opened its doors again as Maureen Joy Charter School’s new home.
“I hope [Maureen Joy] brings more business, more community activities and for people to have more opportunities for education,” Rashad Roberts said.
Roberts’ is the mother of a second grader at Maureen Joy. She said her other daughter recently graduated from the school and is now attending Hillside New Tech where she takes AP classes. Roberts attributes her daughter’s success to what Maureen Joy taught her.
The K-8th grade charter school was founded in 1997 where it was located on West Cornwallis Rd. The tuition-free school determines admission based on lottery. Nearly 85 percent of Maureen Joy’s students come from low-income families and 98 percent are students of color.
The charter school’s main focus is on college-preparatory curriculum and character development. The scholar retention rate in 2011 was 94 percent. The percentage of students that scored advanced or proficient on EOG assessments in 2011-2012 was 80.5.
Due to high demand, the school wanted to increase its cap on 350 students. With their new location, the school is expected to accommodate around 600 students in the next several years.
Self-Help, a non-profit community development institution, began developing the project three years ago.
“A part of the mission was to rehabilitate financially depressed areas,” said David Beck, director of policy and media at Self-Help.
Self-Help invested over $10 million to renovate the building using environmentally friendly features that met LEED Silver standards. They acquired the historic property from the local non-profit TROSA in 2012. Beck said the actual construction of the building took up to 18 months.
The ceremony officially began with a ribbon cutting on the steps of the school.
Speakers at the event included Principal Alex Quigley, Rev. Michael Page, Mayor Bill Bell, Michael Jones and many others.
“This is a breath of fresh air for this community,” said Rev. Page.
Neighborhood residents along with current and former students were asked to come up and speak at the closing of the ceremony.
One of the residents that spoke about the new addition to their neighborhood was Tony Garrett Sr.
“I moved here…we had problems. It was a lot of things that were going on,” said Garrett Sr.
He said every time he saw former City Council member Dan Hill, III, Hill would tell him “Hold on, something is coming.”
Garrett Sr. said the experience is unbelievable. He passes the school every day and has seen how people were disrespecting history.
“For everybody that had a hand in this, for everybody that said a prayer for this, for everybody that just rode by and gave an admiring glance, I want to thank you today. Thank you.”