ST. PETERSBURG — For half a century, the stately building on Ninth Avenue S welcomed African-American students, many of whom grew up to become city leaders.
But for most of the past decade, the former Jordan Park Elementary School languished on the city's to-do list. Riddled with asbestos and weakened by a buckling facade, it was considered an environmental hazard.
The educational icon reopened this week as St. Petersburg's first LEED-certified renovation after a lengthy restoration funded by more than $4 million in federal grants.
Its most recent tenant, the Jordan Park Center of Pinellas County Head Start, already has begun moving back into the nearly 13,000-square-foot space.
"All of our partners, Head Start and the city and the School Board, are incredibly pleased with the outcome," said Paul Stellrecht, director of Midtown Economic Development. "We've come through quite a laborious attempt to create this fantastic new building for the community."
The Jordan Park Center, one of 22 Head Start offices in Pinellas serving low-income families, will operate an Early Head Start program for infants and toddlers as well as a preschool Head Start program, said executive director Juanita Heinzen.
Eventually, the center will host classes in budgeting, responsible fatherhood and survival skills for women. Center officials hope to add a pediatric dental clinic that will be open to all children in the neighborhood.
The building has a rich history, dating back to 1925 when it opened as the second elementary school in St. Petersburg built specifically for black students. The school district shut it down in 1975, four years after countywide desegregation was introduced.
The Jordan Park Center took up residence in the historic building in 1983, paying rent of $1 a year in exchange for maintaining it. But by 1997, the building had deteriorated so badly that the district decided to shut it down.
The center was forced to move into portable classrooms behind the main building, and the former school became home to hundreds of roosting pigeons.
In 2000, City Council member Rene Flowers and former council member Ernest Fillyau wanted to build a black history museum using bricks from the school. In 2003, a nonprofit organization called Source of Health wanted to convert it into a K-5 charter school.
The city ended up buying the site from the School Board for a token payment in 2006 and began planning a renovation. The project won seven grants, including an economic development initiative grant for $1.1 million. Others worth about $2 million came from Community Block Development funds.
Over the past year, construction workers removed the original pine flooring and timbers and recycled them for trim around doors and windows, Stellrecht said. Bricks from demolished portions of the building were recycled back into the facade.
The project, which topped $4.6 million, includes environmentally friendly features such as a gray-water cistern, a solar water heater and a photovoltaic system to produce solar electricity.
A narrow pond in the parking lot absorbs excess rainwater to prevent it from running into the bay. Landscaping includes native plants.
Salvaging a historic landmark was reason enough to undertake the tedious process of restoring Jordan Elementary, said Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis. But ensuring that future generations will reap continued educational benefits makes the outcome that much sweeter, he said.
"I never doubted that we'd be able to save it," Davis said.