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Five plans for Rosenwald school redevelopment site in Winwood emerge

Rosenwald School opened in 1931 for black students during the segregation era and was backed by businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, a chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Company.
Rosenwald School opened in 1931 for black students during the segregation era and was backed by businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, a chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Company. (Seminole County)

The Seminole County Board of Commissioners is reviewing at least five potential redevelopment plans regarding the future of the Rosenwald School site in Seminole County’s historic Winwood neighborhood.

David Nelson with Renaissance Planning presented a site redevelopment study at the commission meeting Tuesday. He told GrowthSpotter the board was presented three overall directions redevelopment could take, one of which involved a historic-centric approach that preserves and renovates all of the nine buildings on the campus, but that might be difficult.

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“Keeping all the buildings might be restrictive because you’re working within the footprints of the existing buildings and it may be more costly to rehabilitate,” he said.

Another approach would be more modern and would involve demolishing all the structures on site, but Nelson said community members and commissioners weren’t keen on the idea.

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The Seminole County Board of Commissioners favored plans that including demolishing some buildings, as well as preserving some of the historic buildings on the Rosenwald School campus.
The Seminole County Board of Commissioners favored plans that including demolishing some buildings, as well as preserving some of the historic buildings on the Rosenwald School campus. (Seminole County Property Appraise/Seminole County)

“I remember one member from the community telling me: If you wipe off everything there, people forget the history,” he said.

Rosenwald School opened in 1931 for black students during the segregation era. It was one of the thousands of Southern schools founded for black students with the financial backing of businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, a chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Company.

As Seminole schools became fully integrated in the 1970s, the facility was converted from an elementary school to the Rosenwald Exceptional Student Education Center. Years later, in 2011, the Rosenwald School closed.

The empty 12-acre school campus sits on Merritt Street, on the south side of Lake Mobile, between the cities of Altamonte Springs and Casselberry.

Nelson said commissioners favored a hybrid approach for redevelopment that keeps and preserves some buildings and demolishes others.

Seminole County's consolidation strategy aims to redevelop a significant portion of its public service offices at its Five Points Complex along U.S. 17-92.

“Maybe you keep three or five and supplement that with new construction,” he said. “That way you keep the heritage while providing new facilities and new activities... it gives us a variety of options to work with.”

Two development concepts that incorporate a hybrid approach were presented to commissioners at the meeting.

The first only would demolish two buildings, while the second would demolish four buildings.

Each concept includes the development of a 70-unit senior housing community and a slew of new amenities, including adding urban farming plots, a playground, shaded sitting areas, picnic areas, and a community dock.

In addition, the buildings on site would be converted into a welcome center for community officers, a museum/heritage center, and a culinary school with a teaching kitchen and café. Additional plans call for retrofitting existing buildings into a library and computer lab and a healthcare/medical services building. The first concept has the capacity to add two more service-oriented commercial buildings.

“A lot of people in the community grew up here ... they want to see more age-in-place housing,” Nelson said.

The study he conducted looked at ways to redevelop and repurpose the Rosenwald school site as an asset that strengthens the Winwood community, he said. “That will be done by offering a varied range of services and facilities, as well as being a gathering, activity, and social center.”

The Winwood neighborhood has relatively lower-income households, lower home values, and higher unemployment rates than the rest of Seminole County. As much as a quarter of the households live under the poverty line, and are dependent on walking, bicycling, and transit for mobility.

Further recommendations will be completed by the end of 2021, including a phased approach to redevelopment and ways to facilitate public/private investment partnerships, Nelson said.

Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz is also involved in improving the Winwood community. The city’s planning staff is currently enhancing Amanda Street and designing a green space/park nearby.

He said “the Rosenwald School is a special place, a place where people gained opportunity through education for many years. There are lots of ideas for what the Rosenwald School can become next. Whatever path is chosen, the Rosenwald School deserves for its next chapter to be just as impactful as its first chapter.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 491-3357, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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