North Birmingham gets $3M to redevelop, clean up ‘environmental injustice’

By Dennis Pillion

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (center) presents a check to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin representing $3 million in federal funding to revitalize and redevelop the old North Birmingham Elementary School. Other elected officials and community leaders were on hand for the announcement on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. Courtesy U.S. Rep Terri Sewell’s office

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Friday that the city would receive $3 million in federal funds to redevelop the old North Birmingham elementary school and to “address long-standing environmental concerns” in the area.

At a press conference Friday, Sewell presented the city a check representing $3 million in funding for the project that she secured in the Fiscal Year 2022 Government Funding Package.

“Today, government is working on behalf of the people of North Birmingham,” Sewell said in a news release. “This community has suffered from environmental injustice for far too long, and the people of North Birmingham know just how critical it is that we invest in clean-up and revitalization.”

Since the early 1900s, north Birmingham has been a heavily industrialized and polluted area just outside the city’s downtown business district. Numerous heavy industrial facilities have operated in the area for 100 years and parts of the area include the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most polluted sites in the country due to soil contamination.

The area is still home to multiple large industrial plants, including the Bluestone Coke facility, which was closed last year after numerous and long-standing violations of its air pollution permit.

The EPA is continuing operations to remove contaminated soil from residential properties in the area, but expects cleanup to be completed soon.

“We know that over the past few years, EPA has come here to try to clean up some of the environmental injustice, but I think it’s time that we re-invest economically and put money right here in north Birmingham,” Sewell said.

Sewell said that the hope is for the old school to become the anchor for the north Birmingham community.

“We know it starts with dealing with the inside of this building, making sure that it’s attractive enough for developers to come in,” Sewell said. “We hope that this will become a multi-use building and facility and a true anchor for north Birmingham.”

Woodfin, who attended school at North Birmingham Elementary as a child, said the revitalization is an important step for the long-suffering area.

“This is a great day for the people of North Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “North Birmingham has suffered from environmental injustice for over a century. These resources will help in righting some of the wrongs from decades of neglect. As a child of North Birmingham, I am particularly grateful. I lived here, went to school here and know that justice is long overdue. Today says that we have not been forgotten.”