President’s Letter from Elizabeth P. Stevens
As the banner said, “Mobile, You Did It!”
Seeing 200+ children walking through the Holmes & Holmes Gate on Cedar Street early the morning of August 11th was both a thrill and a relief. That morning, I dressed quickly and ran down to Cedar Street just in time to see three school buses unloading students for the new Barton Academy for Advanced World Studies. The carpool line, which was expertly managed by the school’s faculty, followed. At 7:45 a.m., student drop-off was over except for one lone car driving up at 7:46 a.m. I have certainly been that parent!
For more than a decade, a small – but inspired – group of volunteers of the Barton Academy Foundation (BAF) has been working with the fine folks at Mobile County Public Schools. Our mission was to get children back into a beautifully renovated Barton after more than five decades of its functioning as offices, followed by vacancy. I think it is safe to say that the conclusion to these many years of effort exceeds all expectations!
The main building and the cafeteria, now called The Commons, were handsomely renovated by a team of experts led by Ben M. Radcliff Contractor, Inc. The artisans and skilled tradesmen who turned this 1836 Greek Revival landmark into a state-of-the-art place of learning followed the expert designs of Holmes & Holmes Architects. One never appreciates the herculean task of an architect until one sees how they blend together historic preservation requirements with the robust code requirements for school buildings. The talents of the Holmes men and Leigh S. Rice, who picked-up the design-lead role following the untimely death of Nick Holmes III, are on full view throughout the two buildings. They are beautiful inside and out.
Our partner in this endeavor was Mobile County Public Schools. They were in charge of appointing the buildings for use as a school for students in Grades 6-9. The result is an interior with cool, but sturdy furniture and equipment and advanced technology. The school system also selected the school faculty. In August 2020, the school board named the amazing Dr. Amanda C. Jones as principal. Readers of this newsletter will have seen Dr. Jones’ article in the November 2020 edition. From that beginning of one employee, Dr. Jones was approved for a team of nearly 30 accomplished instructors and support staff.
In this newsletter, we are listing every known donor of moneys to this great effort. Let me be clear, every gift was important, for it led to the next gift. People from throughout the county and throughout the country sent donations. To each of you, we send our gratitude. The Barton Explorers and their parents also send their gratitude, I am sure.
Donors of $1000 and above are engraved on a four-panel, glass donor wall in the lobby. Donors of $25,000 and above are noted with permanent plaques at pre-selected locations throughout the building. While most giving levels are closed – as is the opportunity to have your name engraved on the donor wall – there are a few rooms available at the $25,000 level and many opportunities for bronze plaques on the Barton perimeter wall at $10,000. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more information about these remaining opportunities.
I have mentioned the small, but mighty team that worked on this campaign. Beyond the dedicated members of the BAF board, there are a couple of individuals and groups whom I must recognize. The first would be Linda Montgomery our Development Director. Schley Rutherford brought Linda to us during a time when the campaign seemed lifeless. She hit the ground running writing grants, researching alumni, and reminding us of our commitments to contact potential donors. Secondly, the team at the Downtown Mobile Alliance, recognizing the catalytic impact of the school’s opening, worked for years doing little things from answering some very unusual calls to helping set up for events. Fred Rendfrey, Development Director for the DMA, compiled a voluminous amount of information to assist in the closing of the Historic Tax Credit, New Markets Tax Credit and AlabamaSAVES funding agreements. Finally, Denise Browning was a founding board member and for many years handled the accounting services for the foundation. Anyone who has served in this capacity on an unstaffed board knows what a labor of love this is.
Three superintendents were involved in the formation of this school. Dr. Roy Nichols generated the idea, Martha Peek gave it life, and Chresal Threadgill made it happen. Mr. Threadgill has committed to making Barton Academy for Advanced World Studies the best middle school in the state, and we believe he will accomplish it. The district was represented by three individuals during this time. Levon Manzie had the courage in 2014 to dedicate $4M to the exterior renovation of the three historic buildings on the site. In addition to some vital, but unseen improvements like a new roof, Barton received new historically appropriate hurricane-rated windows, and Yerby received new windows and the return of its fine cornice. Robert Battles was there when it was time in 2020 to approve the agreements related to the funding for the interior renovation. Make no assumption about the ease of this vote. Finally, Sherry Dillihay-McDade took office in November 2020 and immediately embraced the Barton effort. It is she who will fight for Barton in the years to come. Since she lives just blocks from the school and shares a deep affection for the building from her early teaching days, I have confidence in her commitment to the school’s success.
Jaime Betbeze has been the keeper of the flame for Barton from the day the school system moved out until the school’s opening on August 11th. I admit to plenty of skepticism in the early years, as it felt like we were a group of preservation dreamers.
Gradually though, people caught the vision. Blessedly, Mobile’s foundation community really caught the vision. Early on, the Hearin-Chandler Foundation became the first and last funder to tell us we had asked for too little! The next turning point came with the enormous challenge grant from the Ben May Charitable Trust and the commitment of John Peebles as Campaign Chairman. This was followed at another pivotal moment by a serious commitment from the J.L. Bedsole Foundation. Finally, another pivotal point was the financial commitments of the County Commission and City Council. To be sure, every gift is crucial to the journey; it is just that sometimes a particular gift opens up a smoother path and hastens the journey for others.
The fact is that, together, we have brought this school to life. Students are there as I write this, and I know they are getting a fine education in a truly urban setting. It is up to all of us to support the children, families, and faculty in the months and years ahead.
– Elizabeth P. Stevens, President
Ribbon Cutting Thursday, Oct. 7
Please join MCPSS for an official Ribbon Cutting on Thursday, Oct. 7, at 4:00 p.m., followed by an alumni and community open house from 4:30-6:30. You'll be amazed when you tour the renovated school! Student ambassadors and teachers will be in their rooms to greet visitors and talk about school programs.
Read or download a pdf of our September 2021 newsletter here.
A full list of donors is included in this issue.
Saves Historic School
Famous for Innovation
Financing the renovation of Barton Academy was clearly one of Mobile’s most complicated preservation and education projects ever. As with some other important development projects boosting downtown’s economy, the foundation turned to state and federal tax credits to make Barton’s comeback possible. Mobile County Public Schools cannot receive tax credits because the system does not pay taxes. However, the Barton Foundation can accept and then sell or transfer tax credits and use those funds to renovate the school.
With the help of Katie Frattaroli of AMCREF Community Capital and Randall Minor of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, PC, $8 million of tax credit equity from New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC), Federal Historic Tax Credits and State Historic Tax Credits helped push the foundation to its goal. AMCREF brought in partners such as US Bank, United Bank, and Brownfield Revitalization as tax-credit funders. United Bank provided the bridge funding allowing the foundation to leverage historic tax credit equity and multi-year pledges to close funding on May 1, 2020 and begin construction. ADECA’s AlabamaSAVES Program provided $2 million in financing for energy conservation measures.