Sharing the ‘Joy’: New home for charter school takes shape in old building

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 03:52 PM

It remains months from completion, but the old Y.E. Smith school building at the corner of Driver and Main streets has come a long way from the crumbling brick shell it was a year ago.
The progress gives Alex Quigley reason to smile.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Quigley, principal of Maureen Joy Charter School, which is expected to start moving into the renovated East Durham building this summer. “Teachers keep asking when it’s going to be ready.”
Maureen Joy, one of Durham’s first public charter schools, started in 1997 in the Braggtown area. Eventually, the school moved to larger digs on Cornwallis Road near U.S. 15-501.
It’s a school with a population of 450 that’s 100 percent students of color and 85 percent low income.
“Many of our kids live here in this area,” Quigley said. “Part of our vision is that we want to demonstrate that a school can be a transformative force here.”
Self Help, working with Belk Architecture as lead designer and Charlie Wilson as general contractor, has invested about $10 million to renovate the structure that served as the area’s main public school until 1967.
Dan Levine, assistant director of real estate for Self Help, led a tour through the 50,000 square foot building on Wednesday. Workers are restoring what they can of the old red brick structure while bringing it up to modern green construction standards, including an elevator.
The first floor is expected to house administrative offices and classrooms for the youngest students. On the second floor, an auditorium with a stage takes shape and parallel windowed corridors look down on an open courtyard. In the basement, which used to be packed with junk and occasionally flooded, they’ll have a teachers’ lounge and a cafeteria seating area for students.
Like much of the rest of the East Durham area in the years since, the building slipped into decay. But investment on this scale could prove catalytic for a community that is struggling to rebuild.
“It’s fitting to be part of a community that has an extremely bright future,” Quigley said.
Joe Bushfan, whose popular hot dog diner sits at the corner of Angier and Driver, shares that optimism.
“It brings a lot more love to the community,” he said. “In terms of education, this is going to be a ground zero for learning. I love it, man. The more, the merrier. People are going to wake up. All the guns blazing, all the drug dealing, all the prostitutes – they’ll have to go somewhere else.”
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