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Ralph Bunche advisory committee update

The Ralph Bunche Advisory Committee had a meeting last week on April 28, and has another one scheduled for next week on May 13.

The committee is playing catch-up from some missed and postponed meetings earlier this year due to inclement weather, along with scheduling issues that have cropped up for the large membership.
The committee was chartered by the King George Board of Supervisors in August 2012 with one-year terms. But the committee is still working on its original task to assist the board by coming up with recommendations related to the renovation and future use of the former Ralph Bunche School building, including investigating and identifying funding sources, and to determine an implementation schedule.

LOCATION, HISTORY & COMMITTEE CHARTER
The historic former school building is located on 7.8 acres of a larger 33.2 acre site on the east side of US 301, north of the Circle intersection at Route 205. Ralph Bunche has the distinction of being on both the state and national registers of historic buildings due to its role in the civil rights era regarding its establishment to provide “separate but equal” education, which was ruled the law of the land at the time.

The committee’s charter states:  “In an effort to preserve the name of Ralph Bunche, the heritage of the Ralph Bunche School, and the legacy of Dr. Bunche, the Ralph Bunche Advisory Committee is committed to:  restoring areas of the school to its former condition to honor the contribution the Ralph Bunche School made to the education of African-Americans in King George County from 1949 through 1967; renovating areas of the school to accommodate future community interests including education, recreation, and socialization; and, maintaining the entire Ralph Bunche site to a standard worthy of the many people who fought to see equality in education become a reality.”

STABILIZATION REPAIRS NEEDED
At the time the committee was created, there was money in the county’s 5-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to stabilize the structure by such things as replacing broken windows, sealing cracks and roof leaks against water intrusion, along with some trim painting.

At that time, there was a roof repair item in the CIP proposed originally for 2013-14 at an estimated $215,000. Those repairs were put off, awaiting use recommendations from the committee. Now those repairs have been again proposed to be pushed to 2015-16 in the upcoming CIP expected to be reviewed during a public hearing next week on Tuesday, May 13, during a Planning Commission meeting beginning at 7 p.m.

Members of the Ralph Bunche committee are intending to attend the Commission meeting and advocate for the roof and other stabilization repairs to be made sooner.

RENOVATIONS NEEDED
After the School Board finally turned over the building and property to the county in 2008, ten years after vacating it, the county had a study and assessment of the building performed that was started in 2009 and completed and presented in 2010.

The report and assessment by Wiley/Wilson determined the building to be essentially sound. In addition to the immediate stabilization work to stop water intrusion that was performed, the study also said a total rehabilitation of the entire building was needed.

The complete building rehab was estimated by Wiley/Wilson at a minimum of $3,000,000 to include a new heating-ventilation-and-air conditioning (HVAC) system, electrical system, a new roof, bathroom fixtures and numerous other work items, including increasing insulation in floors and exterior walls, measures to improve overall energy performance, restoring the interior finishes, and upgrades for accessibility including a chair lift and possible elevator to the lower level.

The Board of Supervisors is not likely to locate a funding source for a costly multi-million dollar renovation until it gets a final report from the committee for its recommendations for the use of the entire building and then comes to a board consensus.

SECOND REPORT EXPECTED NEXT MONTH
Last year in June 2013, the committee provided the board with an interim report from its chairman, Nadine Lucas.

A second interim report is planned to be scheduled for a Board of Supervisors meeting next month.  

Last year, Lucas told supervisors the committee had ideas for use of the front, original section of the former school building. The committee suggested showcasing the role Ralph Bunche High School played in challenging the “separate but equal” justification in public school systems, and how this ultimately led to the desegregation of schools in Virginia.

The recommendation is to renovate the gym for community events, which might include receptions, recitals, art and cultural venues, guest speakers and lectures as well as providing community meeting space.

The committee intends the history of the school to be told through photographs, plaques, and artifacts posted and displayed in the gym and throughout the original section of the building to indicate the role that Ralph Bunche High School had prior to the desegregation of schools in Virginia.

The classrooms in the original section would also be renovated for use by the community for some community meeting space for local organizations and businesses and/or non-profits, training rooms for business education and other smaller events.

But there has also been talk about restoring some of the classrooms to their original look and similar finishes and furniture.

Since last June, the committee has continued to talk about its ideas for future renovations to the oldest section of the building.

Uses for the back part of the existing building, the 1957 addition, are planned to be determined later during a second phase. Though, at last week’s committee meeting, Lucas said she wasn’t sure when or whether the committee would determine a use for the 1957 section of the building.

Lucas has also expressed an interest in asking the county to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Ralph Bunche Alumni Association so that group could apply for grants from various sources, which have not yet been elucidated.

The Board of Supervisors is not likely to give that control to a third party, since the committee’s charter specifically bars it from entering into contracts and obligating the county in any way.

The county has the ability to apply for, accept, and meet grant requirements.

Part of the committee’s charge is to make specific recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in regard to identify funding sources and to also develop an implementation schedule.

Grant funding ideas might be part of a business plan to be presented next month that has been bandied about at meetings of the committee.

COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Since the 14-member committee was formed in August 2012, some of the original members have resigned and some have been replaced. The committee currently has three vacancies.

The current members are two from the Board of Supervisors - Ruby Brabo and Jim Howard; five members of the Ralph Bunch Alumni Association - Nadine Lucas, Elaine Harvey, Gwendolyn Lewis, and James Temple Johnson, with one vacancy; two School Board members -  John Davis and Kristin Tolliver; two from the King George Historical Society – both currently vacant; one member from the King George Chamber of Commerce -  Gale Marshall; and, two county staff members -  Director of Economic Development Linwood Thomas and Director of Parks & Recreation Tim Smith.

SUBCOMMITTEES
At a March meeting, several subcommittees were announced with a membership list distributed. They were asked to hold meetings prior to the committee meeting on April 28. Some have met and others have not. The subcommittees as announced are listed below, with brief notes from two of them.

Buildings and Grounds - Tim Smith, James Johnson, Jim Howard. This subcommittee met twice and reported that a capacity analysis for each room and the total building should be performed, since it affects such things as installation of future HVAC and numbers for restroom stalls and parking spaces. To do that, use of each room must be determined. It was also recommended that individual HVAC units be considered for each room instead of one large system. A cost estimate should be obtained for a new roof, with pricing desired for an a-frame roof and shingles versus membrane or metal seam roof. Pricing for a new well and septic system was also mentioned as needed.

Finance/Funding Alternatives - Building - Linwood Thomas, Ruby Brabo, Gale Marshall, Tim Smith.
Finance/Funding Alternatives - Interpretive Displays - Nadine Lucas.

Interpretation - Separate But Equal/Ralph Bunche School - Nadine Lucas, James Johnson, Gwendolyn Lewis, Elaine Harvey, Urzetta Lewis. Subcommittee members said they met a few times. They distributed an outline for a planned brochure that would cite historic dates related to school integration.

Business Plan - Ruby Brabo, Nadine Lucas, Linwood Thomas, Gale Marshall, John Davis.
Initial Promotionals - Linwood Thomas, Nadine Lucas, Tim Smith.

Phyllis Cook

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