Davidson IB Middle School might be closing its doors for the last time in a couple of months, but town officials say they hope to still use the building to celebrate the town's heritage.
"We're interested in ensuring use of that site for community purposes, but we're still in the investigatory stages of that discussion," said Mayor John Woods, adding that the town would more than likely enter into a lease agreement with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools rather than purchase the building.
The Charlotte Mecklenburg school board voted in November 2010 to close the magnet school. Twelve other schools in the system will also close at the end of the school year.
Officials recently announced that Davidson IB Principal Jo Karney will become the new principal at J.M. Alexander Middle School.
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The International Baccalaureate program is expected to move to Alexander.
Built in 1949, the Davidson building is considered historical, although it has never been designated as a historic landmark.
Stewart Gray, a preservation planner with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, said it is up to municipalities to decide whether to designate buildings in their jurisdiction.
A designation would mean the town wouldn't be able to make alterations to the building without approval.
The landmarks commission held a public hearing on the school's designation in 2009, but no action was taken on the part of Davidson's town board, said Gray.
"We're not certain as yet what various uses might be undertaken at the school site, but we certainly recognize that it's very important, strategically located and important to a lot of us in the town," said Woods.
The Sheltons, a well-known family in Davidson, originally donated the land in 1892 for a school, Davidson Academy opened the following year.
Both a private and a public school, Gray believes Davidson Academy became a fully public town school by 1918. In 1932, the school's board of trustees asked the Mecklenburg County Board of Education to take over the school from the town, as well as its counterpart for black students.
Gray said the Davidson School tells the story of education transitioning from a strictly local affair in the late 1800s to a more regional system heavily dependent on federal money in the 1930s.
"We're so used to CMS being standardized with the same education and the same school system," said Gray. "It was a different world back then. Everything was changing extremely fast in terms of public education in the first decades of the 20th century."
Then during an electrical storm in July 1946, the original 1893 Davidson Academy building caught fire.
A report by the county Historic Landmarks Commission noted that none of the residents who witnessed the fire that day were surprised, given that the two-story building was "largely dark, dirty, oiled wood and was full of wooden desks and chairs."
When school started back in the fall, the gymnasium was partitioned into classrooms, and some classes were held at Davidson College as well as at local churches. The gym had been built using funds from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs.
It wasn't until 1948 that a new school building was erected, designed by prominent local architect Louis Asbury. "They were able to design something that served as a school building for 60 years and was basically unaltered during that time," said Gray. "It's a tribute to the architect Louis Ashbury that this building is still largely intact."
The new school served grades one through 12. Community events such as an annual Halloween carnival hosted by the fire department and even a wedding have been held on the school's site.
After North Mecklenburg High School opened in 1951 and John M. Alexander Junior High School opened in 1960, the Davidson School became the Davidson Elementary School.
When a new, local elementary school was built in 1994, the school became the magnet middle school that it serves as today.
"Davidson School's history is very dynamic," said Gray. "It tells the story of post-World War II architecture, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and the development of public education in Mecklenburg County and the state at large. This is a great historic resource."
But with its lack of central air conditioning, its faulty roof and its old, single-pane windows , Davidson IB became too costly to maintain for the school system, said Dennis LaCaria, the system's director of facilities, planning and real estate.
School board members also cited the possibility of being able to grow the international baccalaureate program at a larger site when they decided to close the school last year.
LaCaria said school officials hope to find groups who will make use of the closed buildings.
While Woods said the town has not made any decisions, he expressed optimism about finding a public use for the Davidson School.
"The school property is a long-standing piece of Davidson's history," said Woods. "So certainly we want to retain that part of our town's history if we're able."