Demolition crews start work at historic Cohn High
PORT ALLEN - The battle over the demolition of an historic high school in West Baton Rouge Parish came to a dramatic conclusion Tuesday morning with several passionate defenders of the aging institution making a final effort at staving off the bulldozers.
Project Manager Chris White said the West Baton Rouge School Board decided to tear down Cohn High School in Port Allen based on the numerous safety concerns raised by the now dilapidated structures on the school grounds, but many in the community had opinions that differed.
"It's sad anytime any building is knocked down, but I understand that there's a community attachment to these buildings, and I appreciate that," said White. "but I would hate to think that the building stood and children got inside and something happened."
Cohn High's legacy extends back to when it was the only school for blacks in the parish from 1949 to 1969, making it an important landmark for many who lived through the period of turmoil and eventual triumph that came through the heartfelt efforts of many. Over successive decades, the school fell into a state of disrepair.
Other residents, like Catherine Williams who grew up in Port Allen, said it was painful to watch the school go down, but she agrees with White's point of view. She said the building presents dangerous conditions for children tempted to play in the abandoned school and pointed out that the derelict structure offers a haven for drug users and other criminal elements.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were passionate residents like Caster Brown who wasn't ready to let go of Cohn High for good, or at least not without a fight.
Brown, a member of the Cohn High Alumni Association, sat on the steps of the school Tuesday morning and refused to move as crews prepared to disassemble the school he and the alumni association have fought to save. The alumnus even attempted court action to save the property from destruction, but were eventually defeated.
A crowd gathered to watch as Brown even put his body on the line when he placed it on one of the bulldozers to be used in the demolition. In the end, law enforcement became involved, arrested Brown and removed him from the premises.
While some like Caster Brown fought to the bitter end to save Cohn High, crews began work on bringing it to the ground Tuesday, and many Port Allen residents say they are breathing a sigh of relief for the safety of their community and appreciation for the removal of a symbol of blight.
While the Cohn High Alumni Association was unsuccessful in securing restoration efforts for the school, items considered to be of historical value that remained in the school prior to demolition were removed. An exhibit is planned at the West Baton Rouge Museum to highlight these keepsakes from a once vital venue for education.
The demolition will continue into Wednesday as crews finish the job by tackling the school's former gymnasium.