Escambia County Black Historical Sites Targeted for Development
First the City of Pensacola proposed a fish hatchery at the historical Bruce Beach, now the Escambia County School District is targeting the Black historic site of Ransom High and Middle School in Cantonment for a bus depot, and the former site of the Corinne Jones Recreation Center is being designed for a holding pond. Each of these projects has raised concerns for the preservation of the African American heritage. Each one of these projects also has environmental justice issues and impact.
On May 8th, the Pensacola City Council approved the lease for Bruce Beach with support for the legacy of the African-American heritage being preserved and promoted on the site. The Executive Director, Gil McCrae, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission committed to the establishment of a committee to provide input on the project’s design and programs.
The Ransom High School in Cantonment was an educational institution as well as an athletic powerhouse in Northwest Florida. The school is well remembered by the local Black and White residents. Josh Womack, President of the Cantonment Improvement Committee, met with Escambia County School District Superintendent and was shocked to find out that a contract for demolition was awarded to a company to tear down the school which had been renamed as the Sid Nelson Center. Following the last minute notice given by the superintendent, Womack and the CIC members called several meetings to discuss with residents and county officials strategies to develop a community response for the demolition of the historical building they had planned to serve a community resource center and historical archives. As a result of the meetings the CIC has decided to work with governmental officials to seek a resolution of the issue.
The Corinne Jones Recreation Center site is benefiting from the community concerns of the nearby fish hatchery at Bruce Beach. The Atkins engineering design firm is managing the contract for the development of the storm water holding pond on Government Street across from the former site of the Emerald Coast Utility Authority’s sewerage treatment plant. The former recreation center on the site was named after the Corinne Jones who was a Black community icon in recreation during segregation and the mother of City Councilwoman Rita Jones, Attorney Sybil (Jones) Dedmond, the founder and first Executive Director of the Escambia County’s Community Action Committee and Scott Jones, Jr. who was a Tuskegee Airman.
Atkins, being aware of the historical sensitivity of the Jones legacy and the important role the recreation center played in south Pensacola’s Tan Yard, has offered to listen to ideas from the community on the design of the park, walk ways, and basketball court around the holding pond to preserve and celebrate this history. Follow-up meeting to respond to community concerns are being scheduled in the coming weeks. At the public meeting held by the Atkins firm on June 3rd at City Hall, Allen Gibson a Westside resident and former neighborhood association president asked about the pond and its location so near the children’s playground and why there was no fencing around the pond. Gibson also asked a curious question about the depth of the pond and whether or not a pumping system was being considered as a flooding intervention strategy? The Atkins engineers responded that the pond could be designed with decorative fencing around the area closest to the playground and on the pumping system their response focused on the cost of a pumping system being installed with the need of electrical power support.
The proposed program for the Government Street Regional Stormwater Pond at Corinne Jones Park presently includes:
•an ADA-accessible walking trail
•a fountain feature within the pond