Ouachita County residents are raising money toward the restoration of a gymnasium for use as a community center on the grounds of the former Lafayette School.

Lafayette School Restoration, Inc., was formed by alumni of Lafayette School. The school was closed in 1969 when Camden schools were desegregated.

Lafayette School Restoration, Inc., will gift the gym to the community once the restoration process is finished.

New windows, doors and a roof were installed between last winter and spring, in part through a $15,000 grant.

The building has about 7,200 square feet and sits on two acres of land.

The group is committed to clearing the land for landscaping purposes, re-routing electrical wiring, and installing new plumbing and floors. It has set the fall of 2020 for the completion of the work if sufficient cash and in-kind donations can be obtained.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help raise funds. CLICK HERE to see the page.

Donations may also be mailed to Lafayette Community Center, Attn: Flossie Moore, vice president, P.O. Box 656, Camden, AR 71701.

The organization has ambitions plans for a future community center. It wants to provide weekly recreational and cultural activities to young people, adult education classes, health education and services, and a safe haven for children after school.

“In addition, the afterschool program will provide a meal for those children. The youth will have opportunities to receive tutoring, mentoring, recreational activities, food, social skills, and so forth,” said a statement on the Lafayette School Restoration website.

CLICK HERE to see the Lafayette Community Center website.

The gym, which was constructed in 1950, is the last remaining structure on the Lafayette School campus.

The building is at the intersection of Ouachita County Roads 561 and 562, northeast of Woodfield Trucking.

The school’s history dates to 1929 as a facility for students in first through eighth grades. A vocational shop building was constructed in the 1930s. By 1939, the school had expanded to 11 grades, and the 12th grade was added in 1949. A new high school was built in 1954-55. The curriculum was expanded to include physical education, business administration social studies, science and football.

The gymnasium was a “Butler Building” that featured a brick veneer masonry front, with galvanized steel culvert sheets forming the roof and gym walls.

The school and the gym were closed at the end of the 1968-69 term.

The gym’s nomination for inclusion on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places notes that the school was the center of educational and social activities for African Americans in the Camden area before desegregation.

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