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Ralph Bunche group recommends School Board turn property over to county

No action yet by School Board

As its final official action last week, a Ralph Bunche ad hoc advisory committee recommended that the School Board give the deed of the former school to the Board of Supervisors.
That recommendation came with the stipulation that whatever its future uses, the building retain the name of Ralph Bunche.
The committee report was provided to the two elected boards at a meeting on December 16.
In spring 2006, the Ralph Bunche Alumni Association was successful in getting the former school building listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register due to its role in the civil rights era regarding its establishment to provide “separate but equal” education, which was the law of the land at the time.
Ralph Bunche was named for a brilliant and celebrated African-American educator, diplomat and Nobel Prize winner.  He died in 1971.
The former Ralph Bunche school building is located on 33.873 acres on the east side of US 301, north of the Circle intersection at Route 205.  
The Ralph Bunche High School for Negro Pupils was established in 1949 to provide “separate but equal” education to the county’s Negro students.  
It remained as such until 1968 when the existing King George High School was opened.  
At that time, all high school students in King George began attending the same school.   
Since 1968, Ralph Bunche has been put to several uses, including for some elementary school classes for a time.  
Then, for several years, it housed the School Board administrative offices.  In 1994, many of the School Board offices were shifted to the Revercomb building, with a few remaining at Ralph Bunche.
During that time, potential plans for use of the building and site were being considered.  For a time, the School Board listed the building for demolition in the county’s capital plan.
In the meantime, the building was also used for Rappahannock Community College classes in the evenings, to house an alternative high school education program, and subsequently for pre-school special education classes.
Interest in the fate of the building by King George residents swelled in the spring and summer of 1998.  
That’s when it became known that the King George school administration planned to vacate the Ralph Bunche building and also move out of the Revercomb Building to reunite all the School Board offices in the two-story wing of old King George Elementary School, where it remains today.
Since 1998, Ralph Bunche has been little used by the division except for storage.  The main use of the building is currently by the Sheriff’s Department.
Last week, the committee asked the two boards to adopt a joint resolution it submitted.  
The committee said it wanted the School Board to declare the property surplus and of no immediate educational value to the division and turn it over to the county.
The School Board praised the committee, but took no action.  
The committee said that under the county’s ownership, the building and grounds could be put to several possible uses, including museum, extension of the Virginia Civil Rights Trail, job training, adult education center, cultural arts center, technology center, social/religious/civic, events area, tutoring/literacy training center for children, early education center, alternative school for students requiring different styles of instruction, genealogy center, public park with trails, and baseball fields/basketball courts.
Supervisor Jim Howard noted that many of the uses had been suggested 10 years ago.
The portion of the proposed resolution pertaining to the Board of Supervisors asked them to:  
~ Acknowledge and commemorate the unique resource to the county
~ Commit to enact an ordinance encompassing the Ralph Bunche School building as a King George Historic Property to include forever using the name of Ralph Bunche in the title of the building
~ Commit to maintain the building services and physical integrity until such time it is put to use
~ Commit to preserve a portion of the building for special recognition of the King George African American community, particularly the alumni of the school
~ Commit to put the building and property to future activities.
The committee also provided information about a walk-through of the building by an architectural firm over the summer which indicated that while the building is basically structurally sound, all mechanical and electrical workings would need to be replaced along with other needed repairs to the building.  
The committee told the Board that it could be possible to recoup a portion of renovation costs by the use of historic tax credits.
Chairman Cedell Brooks, Jr., and the other members of the Board thanked the committee.  
Brooks also stated, “The committee’s job is done.  You’ve done what you are supposed to do and done it well.”
In addition to Brooks, the other committee members were Supervisor James Mullen, School Board members Lynn Pardee and Renee Parker, Ralph Bunche Alumni Association members Ernestine Jefferson, Elmore Tyler, Urzetta Lewis and Elaine Harvey, and at-large member Lance Bacon.  
Supervisors are not expected to take any further action or discussion unless and until the School Board votes to turn the property over to the county.  
Supervisors had previously jumped that gun and earmarked a substantial amount of funding for a site survey and renovations.  But that was back in 2003.  
At that time, Supervisors provided $150,000 towards preservation of the building and $16,000 for a site assessment to examine the state of the building and to also look at the rest of the acreage for possible uses.  
But after the School Board voted to not give up the property, those funds were deleted from the county’s Capital Improvements Program.
At this time of economic downturn, the county has no extra money to put toward Ralph Bunche, with planned government center buildings and an addition to the Smoot Library ahead in the queue for funding, along with a new football stadium and two more new schools requested by the School Board.  

 

By Phyllis Cook Staff Reporter

 



 

 

 

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