Massive expansion ahead for ambitious WonderRoot arts group

Exterior. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Exterior of the schoolhouse that will be WonderRoot’s next home. It opened as John F. Faith Elementary in 1922 and most recently served as home to Tech High, a public charter school that closed in 2012. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

A decade ago, when three Atlanta friends in their early 20s were launching WonderRoot as a non-profit community arts group with a strong social mission, its bold, recently announced expansion plans would have been inconceivable.

“You know, when you’re 20 years old, both everything and nothing seems possible, right?” WonderRoot co-founder and executive director Chris Appleton said recently, standing outside the 54,000-square-foot Memorial Drive former schoolhouse that will be retrofitted soon into its new home. “But while we always had big dreams and big goals, the support and community’s embracing of WonderRoot has exceeded any expectation that we would’ve had.”

The extent of that support and embrace is about to be tested, big time.

WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton talks about upcoming renovation work to the 1922 schoolhouse on Memorial Drive that will be transformed into the headquarters of the Reynoldstown arts nonprofit. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton talks about upcoming renovation work to the 1922 schoolhouse on Memorial Drive that will be transformed into the headquarters of the Reynoldstown arts nonprofit. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Earlier this month, the Atlanta Public Schools board approved a lease agreement with the grassroots group covering 10 years with two five-year renewal options. The annual lease amount is $51,434 with an yearly escalation rate of 3 percent.

Roughly $1 per square foot is several floors below market value, but it’s still quite a stretch for an outfit that operates on a modest annual budget of $410,000 in a somewhat ramshackle, 4,000-square-foot house-turned-community-arts-center across Memorial that it has greatly outgrown after seven years.

This in addition to the fact that WonderRoot plans to raise $2.8 million to renovate the red-brick schoolhouse, opened as John F. Faith Elementary in 1922, renamed C.D. Hubert Elementary in 1963 and vacant, with paint peeling in many of its spacious, sunlit classrooms, since Tech High public charter school shut down in 2012.

Yet no one, from staff to board members to community partners, seems to doubt that WonderRoot can not only raise the dough but can grow into an even more influential, change-making organization commensurate with its bigger headquarters.

The old gymnasium/auditorium will be renovated into a performance space. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

The old gymnasium/auditorium will be renovated into a performance space. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

They are ready for the next step,” said Camille Love, director of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

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A classroom that will be converted into one of XX to XX artist studios. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

A classroom that will be converted into one of XX to XX artist studios. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

 

 

 

 

 


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