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Dorchester Academy gets $50,000 grant
Dorchester Improvement Association President Bill Austin, foreground, shows Lowe’s representatives Russ Taylor and Alexandra Liggins some of the academy’s problem areas. This hole is in the ceiling off the annex’s kitchen. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
Dorchester Academy was one of 10 historic schools from 250 applicants across the country and the only one in Georgia to receive a $50,000 preservation grant from Lowe’s this week. Lowe’s Companies, Inc. and the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded nearly $500,000 in grants from Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation to historic schools across America.
“The next step is to develop a scope of work and get bids from restoration architects,” said Bill Austin, mayor of Riceboro and president of the Dorchester Improvement Association. “We will receive $25,000 up front and the rest ($25,000) when the project is complete. We have until December 2011.”
Last November, Dorchester Academy was named by The Georgia Trust to its 2010 list of 10 Places in Peril and was named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites by the National Trust in 2009. The academy opened its museum in 2004 with a grant from Georgia Southern University and has plans to also serve as a community center once restoration is complete.
Dorchester Academy needs its foundation shored up and repairs made to flooring damaged from rainwater infiltration, in addition to a prioritized list of other projects, Austin said. The building’s roof was recently replaced at a cost of $56,000 with much of the funds raised by the Dorchester Improvement Association.
The academy was founded in 1871 to educate freed slaves and continued to provide schooling for African American children in Liberty County for generations. Dorchester closed as a school in 1941, but continued operating as a community center. The academy hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 where the legendary civil rights leader met with other activists to plan the famous Freedom March to Birmingham, Alabama.
Austin took Hinesville Lowe’s sales manager Alexandra Liggins and commercial sales manager Russ
Taylor on a tour of the Midway landmark Tuesday. Jason Kotarski, a historic preservation planner with the Coastal Georgia Commission, accompanied them.
Austin explained the association was awarded a grant to fund the physical assessment of the site by an architectural engineer.  Funds are raised for the building’s continuing renovation each year during the association’s annual Walk to Dorchester, he said. The walk retraces the average distance students had to walk to attend the academy, Austin explained.
Liggins and Taylor pledged to help in any way they could with the academy’s restoration.
“Lowe’s gives a lot of community grants,” Liggins said. “The process just takes time.”
Kotarski said the Coastal Georgia Commission’s technical assistance committee, which is a sub-committee of the commission’s historic preservation advisory council, helps local governments with grant writing and the bid process once a restoration project is approved. The commission has assisted the academy in applying for grants, he said.
The Dorchester Academy museum is open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Groups also can make special arrangements to visit the site.
For more information, call Dorchester Academy at 884-2347 or go to
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