After years of planning and fundraising, plans to repurpose Barton Academy — Alabama’s first public school and a prominent feature of downtown Mobile — are coming together on schedule and students could be walking its historic hallways in only a few months.
The Barton Academy Foundation (BAF), a nonprofit that partnered with the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) to renovate and reopen the building as a state-of-the-art middle school, announced this week it had reached its $14 million fundraising goal for interior renovations to the facility.
The MCPSS Board of Education put up $4.2 million to renovate the exterior of the building in 2015, but the interior renovations that will retrofit the 184-year-old building so it’s able to serve students and educators in the 21st century. It will include collaboration labs as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics labs that will allow students to connect instruction to their real lives and future careers.
Already approved to perform the work, Ben M. Radcliff Contractors is set to start interior construction on schedule to start in June — marking the end of a decade-long effort BAF President Elizabeth Stevens described as “one of Mobile’s most complicated preservation and education projects ever.”
“This has been a long road, and we couldn’t be happier to reach this milestone,” Stevens said, “For 10 years, the BAF board, our donors and MCPSS 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.”
The Barton Academy for Advanced World Studies will be an MCPSS public magnet middle school designed for advanced international studies. Barring any unexpected delays, the school is scheduled to open in August 2021with around 300 students and roughly 40 to 50 faculty members.
Owned by MCPSS, Barton operated as a school from 1836 to 1965. It was then converted into MCPSS’ central office before being vacated in 2007. Through the partnership with BAF started under his predecessor, Superintendent Chresal Threadgill thanked the foundation for its fundraising efforts.
“This truly has been a unique effort and a great example of public-private partnership that will truly benefit our students,” Threadgill said. “We are looking forward to returning Barton Academy to its original purpose as a school. We know it will be a world-class school that will make the entire Mobile region proud.”
Barton Academy will be open to any MCPSS students in grades sixth through nine and will focus on international economics, cultures and languages. Prospective students must apply through the typical lottery process used by other magnet programs, though there will be some specific academic criteria.
According to BAF, the school system will be releasing more information about how to apply to be a member of the Barton Academy for Advanced World Studies inaugural class over the next few months.
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