Thu04172014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Ralph Bunche committee narrowing uses for former school building

An advisory committee established by the King George Board of Supervisors is whittling down the field of uses it intends to ultimately recommend for use of Ralph Bunche, the historic former school building.

Several proposed uses were discarded at last month’s meeting, many of which would duplicate ongoing programs already established at other county locations.
The committee’s primary charge is to make specific recommendations for how the building should be used. Along with that, it is tasked to investigate and identify funding sources and develop an implementation schedule. That could include suggestions for renovations and rehabilitation of the building as possible uses for the rest of the acreage.
The historic 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.
That committee work began in earnest last month at its second meeting with Chairman Nadine Lucas ably setting the Oct. 1 agenda and keeping the meeting on task.
The committee agreed to set aside previously-proposed uses as a job training center, adult education center for GED preparation, tutoring/literacy training for children, early education center and genealogy center.
The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 5, at 6 p.m. in the board meeting room of the Revercomb Administration Building, located behind the King George County Courthouse on Route 3 (Kings Hwy).

BACKGROUND
The Ralph Bunche school building 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 Ralph Bunche Alumni Association is responsible for obtaining that designation back in 2006, with permission of the county School Board, which owned the building at that time, prior to turning it over to the county in early 2009.
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 building. Potential plans for use of the building and site were being considered, and one idea which had been floated was to demolish the building.
Up until the summer of 1998, Ralph Bunche had for several years been used to house some of the School Board administrative offices.  At the same time, it was also used for Rappahannock Community College classes in the evenings, and for REACH, an alternative high school education program, during the school day.  For a while, it was also used for some pre-school classes.
In 1997-98, former division superintendent Ralph Johnson started promoting a plan to convert the building into a regional vocational-technical educational center. That idea evolved into an expensive proposal to keep the facade and the front portion of the existing building, which is the original section, along with construction of a two-story addition at the back.  It also called for a separate building to be constructed for a combined vehicle and maintenance facility for both the school division and the county. The plan was placed in the School Board’s capital improvement request to the county. 
But when Johnson’s idea and the School Board architect’s drawings for construction of expensive facilities on the site were presented to the Board of Supervisors, the proposal fell flat.
So, with no firm plans for continued use of the building by the school division, along with fears that officials might decide to demolish the building, some Ralph Bunche alumni got together and formed a Ralph Bunche Preservation Committee in early 1998. 
The alumni group was successful in garnering community support for recognizing the historical and sentimental significance of the building and its namesake, and to inform people about hopes to utilize the old building in new ways.
The group asked the School Board to adopt a resolution that expressed a desire to keep the name Ralph Bunche for the present building or any new building on the site and to allow it to be submitted for designation as a historic site. The resolution also acknowledged the historical and sentimental significance of the Ralph Bunche High School building and site, and asked that any institution on the site would bear the name Ralph Bunche.
The resolution was prompted following a presentation to the School Board by county resident and middle school teacher Urzetta Lewis, who provided the King George School Board with a recommendation from the preservation committee with ideas for preserving the building. Over 40 interested residents were present at that spring 1998 meeting, and the request was accompanied by over 300 signatures on several pages of petitions. 

Phyllis Cook

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