By MIKE WILLIAMS
Organizers of the Calfee Community and Cultural Center – being planned for the former Calfee School property in Pulaski – are asking Pulaski Town Council to contribute $100,000 to the project to help organizers land a $1 million federal grant to help pay for unanticipated higher construction costs.
Project organizers also plan to seek a similar $100,000 amount from the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.
The local governments’ contributions would create the 20 percent in matching local funds required to land the $1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.
Calfee CCC Executive Director Jill Williams made the request Tuesday during a meeting of Pulaski Town Council. She was accompanied by Mickey Hickman, President of the Calfee CCC Board of Directors.
Williams said the need for further funding for the project became evident earlier this year.
“We really thought we had raised just about all the money we needed for this project,” Williams told council.
She said in July of 2020, cost estimates for the project included $200,000 for architect and engineering design fees; a little over $2 million for construction and about $1 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment along with startup costs.
In April of this year, however, Williams said a revised estimate put construction costs at just under $4 million – $2 million more than first thought.
“Now we have to raise the better part of $2 million,” Williams said, noting “there is a pathway to get there.”
In addition to historic tax credits, Williams said Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have worked to get $500,000 into the Senate version of the budget proposal for the National Parks Service for the project.
“They feel very confident this will happen,” Williams told council.
Much of the rest needed would come from the federal EDA grant.
Williams added that Calfee is not just going to government sources for funding. As of the beginning of September, organizers had raised just over $650,000 from private sources. Included in that, she said, are eight private foundation grants and one donor of over $100,000 – that being Shelor Motor Mile and David Hagan and Larry Shelor.
“They are very excited about this project and have also agreed to purchase the state historic tax credits to allow us to get that money,” Williams said.
“We have had an amazing amount of support from the local community – businesses, foundations and local individuals,” she added.
Williams said the $100,000 contribution from the town would be contingent on three things:
- Successful application for the $1 million EDA grant.
- Pulaski County providing $100,000 in matching local funds.
- The Calfee CCC raising the rest of the funds needed to complete the project.
In her presentation, Williams outlined details about the Calfee project and the needs it will address.
She said the project will draw attention to the “amazing history” of the Calfee Training School and the local fight for civil rights that many around the country and even locally know nothing about.
Another need it will address is the “childcare desert” the community finds itself in.
“Only about eight and a half percent of children below pre-school age have licensed childcare spots. That is a problem that harms people across the income spectrum. One in four residents in the Town of Pulaski live below the poverty line. Local employers have told us that high levels of absenteeism due to a lack of childcare is one of the biggest problems they have with retaining employees,” she said.
The center will provide a health department-certified community kitchen for food-based business entrepreneurs, internet access for some of the 30 percent of Pulaski County residents who currently lack internet access, and basic computer skills.
The center will include a museum in addition to the kitchen, a “donate what you can café” and a childcare facility for 100 children. Williams said the center will partner with Headstart, the YMCA and Pulaski County Schools on childcare.
It will also have natural outdoor play spaces, a digital learning lab that will address and provide literacy opportunities, workforce development classes – all the way up to some digital editing and more advanced computer skills aimed at helping people of all ages be able to go to work.
There will also be an event hall and office spaces for rent, as well as a nature walk and playground space that will be open to the public.
Williams said 18 full-time jobs will be created at the community center, 64 local full-time jobs will be retained with 36 of those for low to moderate income individuals in the county because of childcare and food services at the center, and three food-based businesses will be either started or scaled up in the space in the first year of operation.
Williams said the project is in the capital campaign portion now along with getting final construction designs prepared and reviewed by the Department of Historic Resources.
They hope to hire a contractor toward the end of this year or early next year, construction during 2023 and opening the doors by mid-2024.
Answering a question from Councilman Jamie Radcliffe, Williams said center organizers can complete their grant application to the EDA by the end of October.
She said the $100,000 from the town isn’t necessarily needed immediately, but rather at some point during construction.
“I think we just need it committed,” Williams stated.
As for the request, Radcliffe said he is “100 percent on board with it.”
Councilman Brooks Dawson said the question is where would the $100,000 come from?
“Honestly there’s no extra money laying around. So that would be a choice of general fund or reserve money, correct?”
Town Manager Darlene Burcham said it would depend on when the grant comes in and what the process is for actually spending the money.
“We might be in the next fiscal year, which means you could budget for it in your upcoming budget process. If you were to have to not just write a letter of commitment, but actually draw $100,000 out then it would have to come from the reserve,” she said.
Williams said she believes a letter of commitment would be all Calfee would need from council at their next meeting in October.
During the council comments portion of the meeting later in the evening, Dawson said he agreed with Radcliffe’s support for the town’s donation to the project.
“I understand we don’t have much or any extra money, but I think this is almost like a capital improvement project from the standpoint of things we can do to improve our town with the Calfee Cultural Center, so I certainly am going to be on board with the thought of that. Even if we need to think about the financial side of that over the span of a couple of years, to make sure that we have set aside what we need to for it,” he said.