The Barton Academy Foundation (BAF), a nonprofit organization working with Mobile County Public Schools (MCPSS) to raise money to renovate the building’s interior as a modern middle school, announced this week it has reached its $14 million goal.
“This has been a long road, and we couldn’t be happier to reach this milestone,” Elizabeth Stevens, BAF president, said. “For 10 years the BAF board, our donors and Mobile County Public Schools focused on the end goal of returning students to Barton Academy for the first time in more than 50 years. That will soon be a reality.”
Construction is slated to start in June for the 184-year-old historic property located in downtown Mobile’s Central Business District.
The Board of School Commissioners for MCPSS completed an extensive $4.2 million renovation of the exterior of the Barton Academy and Yerby buildings in 2015.
Since 2012, BAF has worked to secure the remaining $14 million needed to update Barton’s interior — most recently used as administrative office space — into a technologically competent academic institution. To date they have raised around $5.2 million in cash and pledges.
The campaign’s top donor, the Ben May Charitable Trust, contributed $1.27 million in capital. The J.L. Bedsole Foundation and the Hearin-Chandler Foundation each donated $500,000.
Other gifts of $200,000 or more were given by Crampton Trust, Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Mobile City Council, Mobile County Commission, Dr. Monte L. Moorer Foundation and Wayne D. McRae Fund of the Community Foundation of South Alabama.
In total, almost 450 other foundations, businesses and individuals contributed toward the effort.
BAF reached its $14 million goal with the additional help of AMCREF Community Capital as its tax credit advisor, plus $8 million of tax credit equity from New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) Program, Federal Historic Tax Credits and State Historic Tax Credits.
AMCREF brought in partners United Bank, U.S. Bank and Brownfield Revitalization as tax credit funders.
United Bank provided the bridge funding allowing the foundation to leverage the historic tax credit equity and multi-year pledges to close funding and begin construction.
The AlabamaSAVES Program, sponsored by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Energy Division, provided $2 million in financing for energy conservation measures including LED lighting, energy-efficient HVAC systems and energy-efficient water heaters for the cafeteria.
“Financing this historic effort was clearly one of Mobile’s most complicated preservation and education projects ever,” Stevens said. “As with some other important development projects boosting downtown’s economy, we turned to state and federal tax credits to make Barton’s comeback possible.”
The school commissioners also recently approved a bid on the interior work with Ben M. Radcliff Contractor Inc., and construction should begin this summer. Barton Academy for Advanced World Studies will open in August 2021.
The school is anticipated to enroll around 300 students from grades six through nine upon opening, and will integrate various subjects that provide curriculums focused around solving “real world” problems, as well as incorporating traditional learning methodologies.
The new school also will offer multiple foreign language studies, advanced fine arts and entrepreneurial learning with a strong global emphasis. Collaboration labs and science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) labs will focus on activities relating to students’ real lives and future careers.
Students must apply for the school — similar to application for a magnet school — and will need to meet certain academic criteria. Application details will be announced in Fall 2020 or Winter 2021.
“A new school at Barton will spark redevelopment in the area immediately surrounding it, largely bypassed by the revitalization transforming other downtown areas,” Stevens said.
Vacant since MCPSS moved its offices to West Mobile in 2007, Barton twice landed on Alabama’s most endangered properties list.
United Way of Southwest Alabama recognized by AmeriCorps NCCC
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Southern Region named United Way of Southwest Alabama (UWSWA) their 2020 New Sponsor of the Year at their recent sponsor awards ceremony.
AmeriCorps NCCC Assistant Program Director Tamika Eatmon praised UWSWA for providing enriching service opportunities and learning experiences and also recognized UWSWA Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program Coordinator and AmeriCorps NCCC Site Supervisor Brad Martin.
“Mentoring six young adults and shepherding them through a complex project was fun, and our team really came through for us,” Martin said. “At the time that COVID-19 put our filing season on hold, we had prepared approximately 700 returns, which would not have been possible without the weeks that our NCCC team gave us. They took on a big responsibility, and they really impressed our staff and volunteers with their commitment and their learned knowledge.”
UWSWA hosted the River2 team of AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers based out of Vicksburg, Miss., for eight weeks and provided them with meaningful volunteer opportunities during their stay. Their main assignment was to the VITA program.
In order to be a VITA volunteer, each team member trained and tested to become certified volunteer tax preparers. They also assisted in preparing the UWSWA tax sites to open and upgrading the sites’ software.
Once the sites were open, the team spent three weeks preparing taxes and had the opportunity to work in various locations throughout Mobile in a variety of roles in the tax preparation process.
VITA is an IRS initiative designed to support free tax preparation service for the underserved through various partner organizations. This service helps low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speakers file their taxes each year.
IRS partner organizations like UWSWA increase free tax preparation services to the underserved across the country. In Southwest Alabama, UWSWA VITA volunteers prepared 1,067 2019 income tax returns that resulted in $1,019,208 in refunds.
AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults to travel the country and complete hands-on service projects. This program has two distinct service tracks: Traditional Corps and FEMA Corps.
UWSWA serves Choctaw, Clarke, Mobile and Washington counties. Created in 1926 as a Community Chest, UWSWA has raised and invested more than $240 million into the local area community and has funded programs and initiatives that impact a pool of over 500,000 disadvantaged annually.
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