Supervisors hear update on Calfee Community & Cultural Center

The Pulaski County Board of Supervisors on Monday night heard an update on the Calfee Community and Cultural Center (CCCC) being created at the former Calfee Training School in Pulaski.

The board heard from the center’s Executive Director Jill Williams who was introduced by Dr. Mickey Hickman, President of the Center’s Board of Directors.

Williams said her presentation would focus on the ways the center’s vision aligns with the county’s comprehensive plan and the Economic Development Authority’s workforce development strategies.

According to Williams, the Center obtained a Community Development Block Grant planning grant, and over last year hired an architect and engineering firm (Thompson and Litton Architects) to help create a preliminary site plan and floor plan for the center.

They also, with generous support of the board and local donors contracted with consultants to help the CCCC board design its vision plans for the future of the center.

Museum

Williams said a museum consultant had been hired to help the Center’s museum committee put together an interpretive plan for the museum, which expands into the local community – something she said will encourage regional tourists to come into the area.

“We think tourists come to the county for recreational opportunities, but they need rain plans – something to do if it rains or the weather is bad – and we think the museum will provide that,” Williams said.

In a slide presentation accompanying Williams’ remarks, it was noted that:

  • 30 percent of the Pulaski County population was enslaved in 1860 and during the Jim Crow era. Pulaski was the largest African American social/business hub between Bristol and Roanoke at the time.
  • A lawsuit by Calfee educators and families and led by Thurgood Marshall – who would later go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court – and other prominent attorneys was one of six that the NAACP successfully fought that demonstrated that separate is never equal.
  • In spite of underfunding, Calfee students received a rigorous education that impressed even the likes of George Washington Carver.
  • The majority of Pulaski County is unaware of the nationally significant history of its African American neighbors.

Learning Center

“I know you are aware that Pulaski County is a childcare desert,” Williams told the supervisors. “This center is going to provide quality childcare options for families across the income spectrum. Head Start and Early Head Start, families who qualify with Virginia Preschool Initiative, DSS subsidies and parents who can afford to pay full tuition.

“DSS staff in the county report that Pulaski County leaves hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table each year because of the lack of licensed childcare slots,” Williams told the supervisors. “DSS turns away multiple parents each week who need childcare so that they can pursue jobs or education. With more licensed childcare slots in the county, that money would flow back into the local economy.

“Instead, a lack of licensed childcare slots means that those dollars that should be coming into our local economy go to other communities.

“In other words, not only will this project leverage millions of federal and state dollars for the renovation of the building, it will also continue to leverage hundreds of thousands of federal and state dollars each year in the form of childcare costs for care workers and parents who need these facilities in order to enter the workforce,” she continued.

The center – to be named the Lucy and Chauncey Harmon Learning Center – not only will offer expanded full-time childcare slots but will also offer licensed part-time and drop-in emergency care for families who do not necessarily need the full-time option.

“As far as I know there are no other licensed childcare centers in the New River Valley that offer this,” said Williams. “Despite the fact we regularly hear from parents and employers that there is a need.”

Williams said the center’s childcare options will address the EDA’s Workforce Development Plan strategy to expand childcare options, and the county’s Comprehensive Plan’s economic development objective to identify missing services that inhibit industry locations. There will be slots for 100 children.

Outdoor play spaces

The center will provide two outdoor play spaces that will help address the county’s Comprehensive Plan to expand recreational opportunities.

The play spaces will be available to the public outside the center’s hours in the evenings and on weekends.

Williams said the play spaces will be a “different” type of space designed specifically for children constructed using natural and recycled materials, including gardens and water features, encouraging a love of the outdoors.

Community Kitchen

The Lena Huckstep Community Kitchen will be a commercial grade facility used by food distribution providers such as Daily Bread and Beans and Rice’s Mobile Food Market which will deliver fresh, locally sourced, affordable produce around the county; local caterers and other food-based entrepreneurs.

One of the main components of the kitchen plans, Williams said, will be to support local entrepreneurs interested in starting their own businesses and connecting them to local produce.

It was noted that, in 2018, 54.6 percent of Pulaski County children qualified for free or reduced-price lunch – pointing to the need for food assistance in many county families.

The kitchen is named after Huckstep, Calfee Training School’s beloved cook remembered fondly for her beans, cornbread and love of children.

Digital Learning Lab

The Dorothy DeBerry Venable Digital Learning Lab is named after Mrs. DeBerry Venable who was a 2nd grade teacher at Calfee Training School. She successfully advocated for her students to have the same access to technology as the white students of the county.

The lab will allow local youth and adults to access and learn to use high quality technology.

“We’re working with New River Community College, the New River Mount Rogers Workforce Development Board and local workforce professional trainers to design a business plan that will support workforce development through offering credentials, IT support and other related fields,” Williams said.

This, she said, addresses the Comprehensive Plan’s objectives to promote workforce training.

She added that during the Calfee visioning process they heard a great deal about the need for digital literacy classes for seniors who want to learn to do things such as online banking and social media.

The lab, Williams noted, will have a community-accessible computer lab with 13 computer stations.

Meeting Spaces

Williams noted that while there are a lot of meeting spaces in the county, in the area of Calfee there are not many that are well-acquainted with commercial kitchen facilities, high quality technology and space for children.

“The future CCCC will provide such spaces for community organizations, social event planners, arts organizations and others with additional rental spaces that range from the center’s Broadneaux-Baker Hall (1,542 square feet) to a medium sized board room with a kitchenette to a small rental office and gallery,” Williams said.

Timeline

“We have an ambitious timeline here,” Williams said. “Our hope is that if all goes as planned, we will open to the public in early 2023.

The timeline includes a capital campaign (Spring and Summer 2021), design (Fall 2021), contractor procurement (Spring 2022), Construction (Spring 2022 – Early 2023), and opening as the Calfee Community and Cultural Center by Spring 2023.

Project Expenses and Revenues

Thompson and Litton estimates the cost of completing the center at $3.5 million, including $2.5 million for construction and renovation of the old Calfee School property, and an additional $1 million to cover the expense of equipment for the kitchen, computer lab and for startup costs, furniture, fixtures and equipment.

To pay for it, Williams said the Center is submitting in April a Community Development Block Grant proposal for $1.5 million. They have already submitted grant proposals to the Appalachian Regional Commission and National Park Service.

“We anticipate the balance of the project will be covered through historic tax credits and private donors,” she said.

During Monday night’s meeting, the supervisors approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the county and the Center. The MOU calls for the county for a period of two years to administer planning grant funds received by the Center in exchange for the services the Center will provide to county citizens.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot