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Background on Proposed HELP Center

Phyllis Cook

(This is a companion article to one elsewhere in this issue that highlights a July 1 letter from the King George County to Project FAITH requesting financial and other details in regard to the viability of the HELP Center proposed project.)

Project FAITH’s proposal is to construct an $8.4 million HELP Center facility to house some government agencies and non-profits to provide services to low and moderate income individuals.

The governmental and non-profit service providers listed in the recent unsuccessful application for a $700,000 federal block grant are King George Free Clinic, Rappahannock Goodwill Industries, New Horizons Café, State Probation and Parole, Empower House (formerly Rappahannock Domestic Violence Council), and Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services.

It’s not known whether any or all of those entities are still interested in leasing space, nor is it known if they would have the financial resources to afford the amount of rent that would be required from tenants.

Rappahannock Community College, King George Social Services, and Virginia Cooperative Extension were also included as tenants in the application, but are all known to be questionable at best, at this point.

In addition, the King George Health Department is listed as a likely tenant in a performance agreement with the county, but that department has recently signed a 10-year lease for space near the Food Lion in King George.

With potential tenants dropping out, that leaves a large amount of space to be leased.

PERFORMANCE AGREEMENT & DEED OF GIFT
The performance agreement with the county prohibits “any and all for-profit and/or commercial uses.” That means only government agencies and non-profit service providers can be considered.

Those companion contracts were executed last year after a majority of three members of the Board of Supervisors approved giving county land away for the project.   

That was on May 1, 2012, when the Supervisors first voted to give 5.53 acres in the county’s new government center fronting on Route 3 (Kings Hwy) to Project FAITH for the facility. The location is east of Purkins Corner and east of the King George YMCA, also on the north side of Route 3, across from the new Sheriff’s office building.

Then, as recently as this past Feb. 19, the same three, Cedell Brooks, Ruby Brabo and John LoBuglio, voted in favor of granting an extension for commencement of construction from February 28 to Aug. 1, 2013, with Chairman Dale Sisson and Joe Grzeika voting against any extension, in the same split vote as when the land giveaway was approved last year.

ALTERED LETTER
But the three-vote margin fell apart since it was discovered in early June that a three-year-old letter to Froncé Wardlaw indicating interest in the project by Rappahannock Community College (RCC) had been altered. Wardlaw is the executive director of Project FAITH.

Wardlaw had passed the letter to Brabo in early May, who then passed it on to others, including The Journal.
The altered letter appeared to indicate that RCC still intended to be a major tenant in the proposed facility, with the project site plan indicating 15,000 of the 30,500 square feet of the proposed facility was earmarked for the college.

But when the letter was scrutinized by The Journal, it was discovered that the date on the first page had been changed from 2010 to instead read ‘March 30, 2012,’ while the date on page two remained unaltered.

The letter has since been disavowed by RCC officials, and Wardlaw has publicly taken responsibility for the date change.

NOW A LEGAL MATTER
King George’s county attorney, Eric Gregory, sent the July 1 letter to Project FAITH, following a lengthy discussion with the Board of Supervisors held in a closed session at its last meeting on June 25.

Supervisors and Travis Quesenberry, county administrator, spent nearly an hour with Gregory behind closed doors at the end of that meeting, “for consultation with legal counsel employed or retained by a public body regarding specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice by such counsel regarding the proposed HELP Center project.”

That was the same night it received a report from Project FAITH executive director Froncé Wardlaw on the proposed HELP Center project that provided no actual financial details, but only conceptual drawings of the proposed buildings.

That had followed a raucous public comment time with residents speaking both for and against the project going forward.

The three votes in favor of the project had obviously fallen apart when Supervisor Brooks stated that he still supported the project “in theory,” but said he would not “support any type of extensions or anything.”

At the same meeting, Brabo and LoBuglio had also expressed doubt and disappointment, and both appeared to be relying on Gregory to advise them further on the project’s legal issues.

For the most part Supervisors were restrained in their comments, signaling that the legal and contractual issues the county has with the proposed HELP Center have been turned over to the county attorney and county administrator.

DEADLINE LOOMING IN THREE WEEKS
The Aug. 1, 2013, deadline for commencement of construction, defined in legal documents as at least the pouring of all footings, is looking less and less likely to be met.

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