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Congressman Al Lawson kicks off district tour in Gadsden County

Valerie Crowder
WFSU Public Media
Congressman Al Lawson presents a $4.6 million check for a disaster shelter in Gadsden County. County Commissioner Brenda Holt (right) and Quincy City Commissioner Angela Sapp (left) pose for a photo with Lawson.

North Florida Democratic Congressman Al Lawson kicked off a tour across his district Thursday with a stop in Gadsden County.

Next week, Lawson is expected to visit Jacksonville and tentatively Madison County, where he’ll meet with constituents and present checks for local community projects, said Ayanna Young, the congressman’s communications director. Altogether, he has secured funding for eight projects.

Lawson represents Congressional District 5, which stretches from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County.

In Quincy, he presented a $4.6 million check for an emergency disaster shelter at the former W.S. Stevens High School, which was mostly destroyed in a fire several years ago.

The historic school was built in 1929 during the Jim Crow era, explained Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt (District 4). “That’s why it’s so sacred,” she said. “That’s why it’s a good place because they gave shelter during that time for those children and we’re doing shelter now.”

It closed in 1955 due to a fire. Then it served as a vocational center. The campus was mostly destroyed in another fire in 2017. One building on the campus remains.

The disaster shelter will be built on the lot where much of the former high school once stood, Holt said.

When the new facility is complete, it will become the county's first emergency disaster shelter. During Hurricane Michael, the county had to use Gadsden County High School as a temporary shelter.

"It's so exciting because now we will not have to hold up the high school in order for us to have shelter to house people in a disaster," she said. "After Hurricane Michael, we needed help right away."

Former WS Stevens High School.jpg
Valerie Crowder
The site of the former W.S. Stevens High School in Quincy. Funding presented to the county on Thursday will fund a disaster shelter on the property.

The county also plans to use the renovated facility to house a culinary program and a COVID-19 isolation ward if needed.

Lawson says he’s long advocated in Congress for local community projects to receive federal aid. “Once you get elected, not only do you want to benefit America itself, but also to uplift your communities to make sure people have a better quality of life.”

After stopping in Quincy, he visited Midway to present a check for about $2 million. That funding will help expand the community’s Eugene Lamb Jr. Recreation Center into a multipurpose health center. The first of its kind for the community.

County leaders speaking at the check presentation event said they don’t want this kind of help to end. And that’s exactly what they fear will happen if Lawson’s district is eliminated.

County Commissioner Eric Hinson (District 1) slammed Gov. Ron DeSantis's proposal to eliminate the 5th Congressional District, which Lawson represents. He encouraged everyone at the presentation ceremony to contact their state lawmakers and urge them to pass a map that keeps the district intact. “Just like he stepped up to the plate for us, it won’t hurt to write a letter.”

Hinson also encouraged everyone to ask their relatives and friends across the state to do the same as the legislature gets ready to pass a new congressional map next week.

“We’ve got one of the best congressmen in America. Am I right?” He asked people gathered inside the part of the former high school that's still standing. “Right,” they echoed back.

Correction: A previous version of this story quoted Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt saying that the W.S. Stevens School was built in 1929 for children of former slaves. That the school was built for children of former slaves cannot be verified.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.