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Economy & Business

Former Student Wants To Save Simmons School And Revitalize The Ville

 Simmons School closed more than a decade ago when it merged with nearby John Marshall Elementary.
Screenshot via Google Streetview
Simmons School closed more than a decade ago when it merged with nearby John Marshall Elementary.

A former student of a north St. Louis school that has been closed since 2009 is planning to save the building and make it part of a renaissance in the Ville neighborhood.

Developer Laura's Hughes' company, Fleur De Lis Development Corporation, is working on a contract to convert the old Simmons School building into lofts.

Laura Hughes was born and raised in the Ville. She attended Simmons elementary from kindergarten through fourth grade.
Laura Hughes was born and raised in the Ville. She attended Simmons elementary from kindergarten through fourth grade.

“It’s definitely a labor of love. It truthfully does not feel like work,” Hughes said as she reflected on the project and her school days at Simmons. “When I had the opportunity to re-enter Simmons, I was a child again.”

Hughes plans to transform the building into 60 living spaces with amenities like a coffee shop, small park, and multi-purpose facility.

The building originally opened in 1873 as Elleardsville Color School Number 8. It was one of the first places in the city where African Americans could attend elementary school.

The building was later renamed to honor African American rights and education activist William Johnson Simmons.

He was born into slavery and would eventually become a college president, journalist, and serve in the Union Army. Hughes describes his book, “Men of Mark: Eminent Progressive and Rising,” as the most authoritative work on 19th Century African Americans.

That’s why she’s naming the project after him. Hughes wants the Simmons Mark Lofts to help bring attention to The Ville neighborhood’s history, including the notable people who came from the area.“We often talk about the Arthur Ashe’s, the Tandy’s [Civil War Captain Charlton H. Tandy], and the Simmons, but there are so many more living legends that are here among us every day.”

Map of Simmons School in the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis.

She is not placing a timeline on the school renovation, which is part of The Ville Redevelopment Project. That initiative also includes the rehabilitation of 15 homes between Lambdin Avenue and Whittier Street.

Hughes is hoping the overall development will convince more people to move to the neighborhood, and she sees the renovation of Simmons School as a vital part of that strategy.

“I truly wish I could offer news to say that I’m turning this back into a school,” she said, “but I’m also trying to save the building and the community by increasing the population.”

Hughes is not announcing the cost of the Simmons project as she seeks approval for historic tax credits. The surplus property section of the SLPS website lists the price of the former school at nearly $613,000.

Follow Wayne on Twitter: @wayneradio

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