Waco renovates forgotten college campus
By Rebecca Fiedler
An abandoned building on what was once the campus of Waco College, later called Paul Quinn College, is getting a makeover. On Thursday, Rapoport Academy Public School will begin renovating the dilapidated building that once hosted the students of a college founded to educate those newly freed from slaves.
Green foliage climbs up the walls of the structure, and crumbling sheetrock, smashed windows and broken doors can be found throughout the building where African-American students studied mathematics, Latin, theology and other subjects. Where wild animals now scamper and hide, newly refurbished classrooms will host Rapoport students starting March 2015. A ceremony for Rapoport will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday celebrating the initiation of these renovations, where visitors will be able to explore the first floor of the historic school and meet Paul Quinn College alumni.
“People will be able to actually go in and see the tigers that were painted on the wall as the college was moving out,” said Gaylene Reed, institutional development director at Rapoport. “Tigers are the mascot for Paul Quinn College.”
Paul Quinn College called Waco its home from the l870s to the 1990s, but it is now located in Dallas, leaving buildings of what was once the Waco campus to be sold and leased to different organizations in the Waco community. Rapoport Academy’s fifth to 12th grade campus is comprised of three renovated, long-term leased buildings on these grounds and one purchased building.
“Our math and science building was once the Paul Quinn math and science building, and we renovated that into a new math and science building for our high school,” Reed said. “What was once the Paul Quinn library we have now named the Paul Quinn Annex, and it is where we have social studies and language classes, as well as a commons area.”
The renovation of what once was Paul Quinn College’s 22,000-square-foot Bishop Joseph Gomez Administration Building is a $3 million project for Rapoport. The Gomez Administration Building was originally built in the 1950s, and will once again be used for classrooms and offices, also including a band hall and technology lab.
“What this renovation does is continue our growth,” said Alexis Neumann, chief operating officer at Rapoport. “Our size has been approved up to 950 students and we’re at 740 right now. We’re maxed at the high school because of the small buildings we currently occupy.”
The money for the renovations comes, and will come, from donations to the non-profit school, though Rapoport has had to take out a loan to address the rapidly growing student body in need of new classroom space, Reed said.
“Our students are here and moving up in grade, and we’ve got to have space for them, so we had to start renovation and construction,” Neumann said. “It’s not paid for yet. It’s funded by the bank through a loan, but we’re hoping for private donations to cover the cost.”
Reed said Rapoport will try to ensure the history of the building and the college is preserved.
“We already have a historical marker that will be installed once we finish the renovations,” Reed said. “The historical significance will be very strong. One of the things we work hard to preserve is the historical character. We will also leave as much as we can of the original signage inside the building, as well as the tigers.”
In the 1960s, the Baylor Lariat described the campus of Paul Quinn College as students saw it decades ago.
“Students here attend classes in a building that looks like a post-war set from ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and in another building that is as new and proud as Tara must have been before Scarlett O’Hara had ever seen a Yankee,” states an article from a 1966 Baylor Lariat issue by Roger Cantrell.
Neumann said the school will do as much as it can to retain the original design of the building, too.
“The general feel of the building will be similar,” she said. “It will be new, painted and updated, but the general feel of the building is still going to feel very much the way it was when the Paul Quinn students were there walking the halls.”
Neumann said Bishop Joseph Gomez’s daughter commented on the renovation plans.
“She said that this is exactly what her father would have wanted the school to do,” Neumann said. “This is exactly the use of these buildings he would have wanted to see had he been here himself.”