PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — At the corner of Wesley street in Petersburg, sits a rich piece of Black history — the Peabody School Building. Established in 1870, the school is one of the oldest public schools for Black students in the country, something alum want to be preserved.

“This school has produced artists, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, educators, of course,” said. Dr. Kenneth Lewis, a proud alum. “When people ask why is it a big deal? You have to go back to the beginning of time in America when Black people weren’t allowed to be educated.”

Peabody served as a high school in Petersburg until 1970 before transitioning to a middle school. In 2017, all school activities ended abruptly, and the brick building has been vacant since.

Lewis said in those five years, the school has caught fire. The security and power have also been turned off, making it an easy target for vandals earlier this year.

“Glass is shattered. There was a trophy case that still had trophies and it was shattered. They broke them. They tore out the circuit boxes, cut the copper wire, Ripped out a wall furnace radiator,” Lewis said, describing a troubling scene inside.

Now, the question is “What’s Next?”

Lewis said there has been discussion by the city to turn the building into residential space. However, he believes that is erasing the school’s precious history.

“You have the oldest Black high school in the US,” he said. “This could be tourism, a purposeful site. There’s a bus stop right there, it’s on a bus route, it could provide health, mental, educational, and tutor, services. It could be a cultural arts center, there’s an auditorium.”

Lewis hopes more attention to the matter will help preserve the Peabody story. Meanwhile, 8News reached out to city councilors who said “there is still more discussion to be had about the building.”

“We should not have to sell our soul for a dollar so someone else benefits,” he said.