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Pensacola explores buying The Gibson School

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

The city of Pensacola has expressed interest in purchasing and preserving an historic school building.

"We have notified the Escambia County School District (of) our interest in acquiring the Gibson School” said Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves at his weekly news conference Tuesday morning, announcing the city’s interest in the school building on C Street in the city.

“There’s a century, more than a century of history in that building in the education community” said Reeves. “Many folks who live in this community have fond memories of the John A. Gibson School, and of course it’s named after someone who has had (a huge) impact in education of African American students and advocating for African American teachers in the city and the county over decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

In the 1880s, John A. Gibson was one of the organizers of the Institute of Colored Teachers of Escambia County. During that time he also served Pensacola as a city alderman. Gibson passed away in 1906, and 15 years later the John A. Gibson Intermediate School was named in his honor.

The city’s effort to buy the school building is a recent decision and one that the mayor says will take Community Redevelopment Agency action, as well as action from the school board and a lot of inspections.

“It would still require structural assessments and other things like that because we know there was a lot of damage from Hurricane Sally, and we don’t know to what extent,” said Reeves. “But we wanted to make sure that a build with this kind of history in our community had a fair shot (of being) preserved if it could be.”

At his press conference, Reeves said it was too early to even speculate about possible uses for the building, who would pay for renovations of repairs, or even what price the property might fetch on the open market. He did say that if the building were not structurally sound and would need to be demolished, then the city would not pursue the purchase. Beyond that, he’ll keep the city’s options open.

“Goal number one is to save this historic structure, that’s number one," he said. "And then number two is, what’s the best way to put all that together. So, nothing is off the table.”

The Escambia County School District shut down the John A. Gibson School in 1974. Since then it has been a location for the local Head Start program.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.