Waco’s Rapoport Academy is renovating an old building on its campus. It’s one of the first projects in the Texas Main Street development along East Waco’s Elm Avenue. The school is financing the project with a mix of private donations and help from the city.
Texas first lady Anita Perry stopped in Waco to celebrate Elm Avenue’s designation as a Texas Main Street. That means the East Waco neighborhood will get some help from the Texas Historical Commission as it rehabs its historic buildings. Matthew Polk is the superintendent of the Rapoport Academy, a charter school on the old Paul Quinn College campus on Elm Avenue.
"It’s you that makes Main Street. Because you see that there’s value in the past, there’s value in preservation, there’s value in passing a city’s history to the next generation," Polk said. "You guys are gonna be the first students to be in here and see what it’s gonna be. This is your building. I hope you’re excited about it and it’s gonna be great."
The Academy is renovating the Gomez Building, an old administrative building for the college, which closed its doors in the early 90s. The building has been shuttered since then—it’s dilapidated with boarded up windows on the outside, and the inside is dark, dirty, leaky…it looks like it’s been abandoned for 20 years.
The academy is converting the 17,000 square foot building into high school classrooms. Polk says the extra space will allow the school to expand their high school enrollment from 150 students to 300 students.
"Many of the rooms are usable in the current configuration there will have to be a few places where we have to move some walls and so forth," Polk said. "The foundation of the building is great, the exterior is Austin Stone. Really strong, in great condition according to the engineers. So it won’t take much."
The project will cost about $3 million dollars and has been awarded $450,000 in Tax Increment Financing from the city. Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan, Jr. says that TIF money is instrumental in helping developers get over renovation costs in these projects.
"Well Main Street is all about preserving the historical look and feel of our traditional downtowns and we have no better preserved example than Elm Avenue," Duncan said. "We’re really excited to see the continuation of this development and all the development that this has spurred further down Elm."
There’s an old mural in a flight of the main stairwell in the Gomez building. It features a series of Tigers, Paul Quinn’s mascot. Alexis Newman is Rapoport Academy’s Chief Operating officer. She explained they represent progress of a growing student…from a shy cub to a roaring tiger. She says the school is trying to save the murals, even though Rapoport’s mascot is the Raven.
"We love the fact that it’s the snarling tiger that’s the one that’s finished," Newman said. "That’s our primary purpose to save, if we can save the second one, we will and then the third one. But they can’t stay where they are because of the asbestos."
James Gilmore is the president of Paul Quinn’s alumni association. He’s looking forward to the campus returning to its old glory.
"It reminds me a lot as to how it was back in the day back in the 60's the campus is beginning to come alive again. Even the trees budding out and the grass is green," Gilmore said. "Just he way it used to be in the Sixties."