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Federal grant awarded to transform Oaklawn

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

The old Oaklawn building, once an all-black school in Lincolnton, will likely see renovations in its future now that a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant has been awarded to Lincoln County, as was announced last week in a press release from the office of Gov. Bev Perdue.
Local officials have said they thought getting the grant was a longshot.
As the Times-News has previously reported, the county applied for the grant in the spring after many weeks of discussion on the historical building’s future. The Board of Commissioners said they would approve repairs to the county-owned facility should the grant money come through to cover the cost.
The building’s planned use will be for the expansion of the Lincoln County Head Start Program, which is currently housed in an adjacent facility, as well as a potential base for a local branch of the Boys & Girls Club, both of which are in a lease agreement.
Shaun Newton, a Lincoln County resident and current Department of Social Services employee, has been leading the charge locally to establish a Lincoln County chapter of the national nonprofit organization.
He told the Times-News on Friday that county officials had notified him Thursday regarding the grant being awarded.
“I firmly believe that this grant is going to be a stepping stone for what’s to come,” he said.
He believes that renovating the building, which has immense sentimental value to many in the local African-American community, and allowing Boys & Girls Club to operate there will be an investment in Lincoln County youth, both for today and for the future.
Oaklawn is also part of an important regional historic legacy. It was one of the Rosenwald Schools, built for African American students through a partnership between the Chicago-based owners of Sears and local communities in the early 1900s.
With the facility in poor condition today, some county officials had originally questioned whether it would be cost-effective to restore it, with early estimates putting the total price tag at roughly $484,000. Nonetheless, commissioners ultimately gave more weight to the building’s historical value, having heard from many in the community speaking out against its proposed demolition.
Assistant County Manager Martha Lide told the Times-News on Friday that getting the grant “was a long shot,” adding that she was “very excited” when she found out.
In addition to the $500,000 from the grant funds, the Boys & Girls Club will contribute $100,000 from fundraising and the county will provide $85,000 for roof repairs, Lide said.
Lide noted that restoring the old building, which she described as a “real community-builder,” will not only help to retain a piece of history, but she also hopes the project will revitalize the area around Oaklawn.
Twenty other communities across the state were also awarded N.C. Catalyst Community Development Block Grants to upgrade various transportation, housing, economic development and public neighborhood projects, according to the press release from Perdue’s office.
The funds are provided through a federal interagency partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Catalyst funds are dedicated for projects serving persons of low and moderate incomes.
“These projects revitalize our communities and improve the lives of so many North Carolinians,” Perdue said in a statement. “We’re proud of our local governments and their efforts to strengthen all aspects of their communities, and for the federal government’s assistance in doing that.”
Now, with the necessary funding in place, “the fun part begins,” said Newton.

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