Nov 22, 2010 9:13 AM by Nichole Larkey
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - A group that has been struggling to restore the Holy Rosary Institute is hoping a change in ownership could breathe new life into the effort.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette has agreed to transfer ownership of the historic African-American parochial school to the Sisters of the Holy Family, the New Orleans-based order of nuns who operated the school for decades, said Gloria Linton, a Holy Rosary alumna involved in the push for restoration.
Linton said the sisters have a keen interest in renovating the campus that sprawls out over several acres.
The focus is on the main three-story, red brick school building, which has fallen into disrepair after sitting vacant since the school closed in 1993.
The roof has caved in, large tree limbs have invaded the building and portions of the interior are crumbling.
"The first thing is to get a new roof on that building, get the tree limbs out of it and just close it in," said Linton, who attended the school in the 1940s.
Holy Rosary Institute opened in 1913, and the main school building was completed in 1914.
The school took in black boarding students from across the country who sought a quality education in the days of a segregated school system.
"At one time, there were hundreds of students in a graduating class," Linton said.
Linton said the school ended the boarding program in the years after school integration but remained open until 1993.
"If the school is not restored, a large part of our history will be lost," she said.
The school has been identified as one of the most endangered historic sites in the state, and the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation has offered the services of a grant writer to find money for the restoration work, Linton said.
The total cost for the project is estimated at $6 million to $8 million.
Linton said the hope is that once the building is restored, it could serve as a home for a pharmacy, health care services and a small auditorium for community events.
The renovated dormitories could be used for weekend retreats, she said.
Linton and other alumni have been working for about a decade to restore the old school, and she said the planned change of ownership is a major step forward.
Some buildings on the old campus are still in use.
A Head Start preschool program fills one building, and another building on the campus is being used by Volunteers of America for a program to work with expelled students.
The school's cafeteria was renovated about four years ago and now serves as a community banquet hall.
The cafeteria's kitchen is still awaiting restoration, along with the old gymnasium.
But Linton said the first priority is to put a roof on the main school building.
She said architects have verified that it can be salvaged.
"The walls of that building are strong," she said. "It's just the roof that has fallen in."