For more than two years, the old Blairs Middle School has sat empty and forlorn, as time and the elements took their toll on the old building. But that will soon come to an end, with a glorious boost for the community in the proccess.
Officials with Landmark Group, a company based in Winston-Salem, N.C., that specializes in development of historic properties, will be repurposing the old school building for apartments to serve the community, located just north of Danville.
What makes this news so special and so welcome for residents of Blairs and Pittsylvania County is the history of the middle school building, a history that was almost lost.
In the days of Jim Crow segregation when there were separate — and supposedly equal — schools for black and white children, the building was known as Southside High School, the county’s first high school for African-American students. In the late 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court forced states, such as Virginia, that were dragging their feet on desegregating public schools to dramatically speed up the process. The name “Southside High School” was relegated to the history books, replaced by “Blairs Junior High School,” later “Blairs Middle School.”
But in the hearts of Southside High alumni, the school building continued to hold a special place. The Pittsylvania County School Board closed Blairs Middle School in 2003, and ownership reverted to the county’s Board of Supervisors. For 13 years, it housed the Blairs Community Center until it was closed again because of health and safety issues in 2016.
The Landmark Group plans to submit an application for the building to be named to the National Register of Historic Places, which would make historic tax credits available to finance the renovation of the school. And as a historic building, the school-building façade would be retained.
Developers are planning for 55 units from between one and three bedrooms, a fitness center and a community room for residents. Best of all, the apartments would be reserved for working-class households within a certain income range.
According to the Register & Bee, there were numerous discussions over the years about whether the Southside High building should just be razed. Fortunately, that never happened. Now, a building that holds a special place in the hearts of many county residents is on track to remain a part of the community for years to come.