A tall, one-story brick building stands on North Webb Street in Selma, just across the way from the fire station. It has stood there since it was new construction in the 1930s.
The building has been many things over the years – a gym for Selma High School, a community center, a skating rink and, most recently, home to American Legion Post 141, which met there before turning it into storage.
The town recently bought the building from the Legionnaires, with plans to turn it into a civic center. But it needs $300,000 to make that happen.
The building was originally the Selma High gym, a Works Progress Administration project under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The WPA provided work for millions of jobless Americans during the Great Depression, including some in Selma.
“This was built here in Selma by the people of Selma,” said Ann Williams, a catalyst for the civic center project and member of its steering committee. “It’s part of our history.”
When the American Legion put the building up for sale, Williams got involved. As a former assistant superintendent overseeing school construction in Johnston County and as the daughter of a contractor, it was good fit, she said.
“Construction is kind of what we do,” she said of her family.
So Williams went to the town and asked it to buy the building.
“It’s incumbent upon us to save this part of a legacy to the town,” she said.
In February, the town purchased the building for $60,000, a steep discount from the $120,000 asking price because Legionnaires liked the civic center idea.
“The Town of Selma has no place to have a large gathering,” Williams said. “This could be a nice event space for about 350 people.”
The plan is to return the building to its original luster while modernizing the structure. First up are roof repairs and some cleanup made necessary by bats taking up residence there.
But the brick walls and foundation are in good shape, as are the exposed wooden beams and the original wood floors, which still show the basketball court lines from the Selma High gym days.
The building also has a large connecting kitchen and meeting space Williams said would be ideal for a variety of events. The steering committee plans to add a stage and lighting.
“The plan is to restore it,” Williams said. “Everything will be new – plumbing, electric, HVAC. A total reconstruction.”
The $300,000 estimated is for a turnkey project, Williams said, down to the furniture and light fixtures.
To reach that amount, the town and committee are appealing to business owners within and without Selma. Plaques inside the building will honor large donors.
A brick courtyard will front Webb Street, flanked by the ancient oak trees marking the property. People who wish to donate to the project can purchase engraved bricks for $100. For veterans, the steering committee will add a flag to the brick for an additional $5. Tax-deductible donations can be made at Town Hall or on the town’s website. Checks can be made to the Town of Selma Civic Center and mailed to the finance department at 114 N. Railroad St., Selma, N.C. 27576.
Williams said she and others are reaching out to businesses, civic clubs and others to find funding. The steering committee also welcomes in-kind donations of labor and materials and will honor those donors too.
“We’re going to go full force over the next few months to raise this money,” said Williams, who expects the work, once it begins, to take four or five months.
“We really need help and want everyone to get behind us,” Williams said. “This wonderful building was originally built by local people during one of the darkest periods in American history – the Great Depression – when many people were struggling just to feed their families. We are dedicated to restoring this building to honor that legacy.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett