Sunday September 24th, 2023 9:27AM

Gainesville, Hall County officials cut ribbon on Butler Center renovation

By Austin Eller News Director

Hall County, Gainesville, other area officials and community members gathered Saturday morning to cut the ribbon on the newly renovated Butler Center, which once served African-American students in the 1960s as E.E. Butler High School.

The facility, located on Athens Street in Gainesville, first opened its door as the high school in 1962 when segregation was still in effect. It operated until 1969 when the school's African-American students were integrated into the Gainesville City School System.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said in the years following, the facility has been operated by Ninth District Opportunity.

"There's always been a section of this building that wasn't really used ... and that was the gym space, classrooms and locker rooms," Williams said.

Those portions of the building have now been renovated, with three large classrooms, a conference room, a gym with four basketball courts, five office spaces and a concession stand.

"When COVID came along, it gave us the chance to kind of be a little more creative in our partnerships," Williams said. "And so we have a partnership with Ninth District Opportunity where we're leasing the space, and we're using some of our ARP ESSER III funds that go to serve underprivileged kids, learning loss, and items like that to allow us to use the space in the evenings and weekends when they're not using it."

The newly renovated facility will be used to house programs and services designed to help community members reach personal and professional goals through a variety of education and training opportunities. Head Start will use the space during their operating hours, with Gainesville City Schools using it during evenings and weekends.

Kyndra Rucker Cohen will serve as the lead coordinator of the Butler Center throughout the week and on weekends. Additionally, Cohen will serve as the director of the Hall County Family Connections Network.

"Hall County Family Connections is a separate entity," Williams said. "[The Gainesville City School System] is the fiscal agent. One of the things we do is we receive those grant funds, but then we put in funds of our own, so that she is the Hall County Family Connections director that serves Hall County Schools, Gainesville City Schools and the community."

Cohen said she was excited to take up the role in the renovated facility.

"I'm just ready to help build the youth, build a resilient community, and just be one of the leaders in the community along with all the other strong leaders here," Cohen said.

Additionally, the Butler Center will host the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier's afterschool programs for one year while its new Positive Place Club on Downey Avenue is being built.

"We really thought this was going to be a 10-year project before it would be where it is today," Kay Laws, executive director of Ninth District Opportunity said. "I think this is just a prime example of what can happen in a community when people set their own agendas aside and work together for the good of our children and families."

Many E.E. Butler High School alumni and former students were present at the ribbon cutting, including Linda Hutchens.

"61 years ago in August of 1962, 515 proud students, 18 teachers, one librarian, one counselor, and one principal entered the newly constructed E.E. Butler High School building," Hutchens said. "I was one among the 515 students. I entered the building as a freshman. The physical building at that time was something to behold. It has been described as first-class and state-of-the-art. To say that we were excited about attending Butler would be an understatement."

Andre Cheek-Castleberry said initial conversations about renovating the building began as a plan to fill a void in Gainesville's south side community.

"This was all inspired by the death of George Floyd," Cheek-Castleberry said. "We knew that we didn't have any place for those in the community to go on the south side, as far as a community center. We began to have conversations around what is needed in this community."

More information about the Butler Center can be found here.


  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: gainesville, newtown florist club, Gainesville City School System, Ninth District Opportunity, E.E. Butler High School, Butler Center, Hall County Family Connections Network
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