Supervisors okay $100,000 for Calfee School project

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Board of Supervisors members pose with a symbolic check presented to the Calfee Project’s Dr. Mickey Hickman and Binti Villinger. (Mike Williams/The Patriot)


The Patriot

Calfee Community and Cultural Center can move forward with its application for a $1 million federal grant after the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors on Monday pledged $100,000 in local matching money.

Monday’s meeting of the board was the last for Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready. And the old county jail building now belongs to the county’s Economic Development Authority.

The supervisors voted unanimously to approve a request by the Calfee project for $100,000. The approval follows a similar action recently by the Pulaski Town Council to also pledge $100,000 toward the match for a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The need for the additional $1 million became apparent after organizers received new construction cost estimates for the Calfee project, which increased significantly due to inflation-driven higher material and labor costs.

Dr. Mickey Hickman, President of the Calfee Board of Directors and Binti Villinger, Communications Director provided an update on the project to the supervisors.

Organizers of the project believed they had raised enough money through grants, historic tax credits and private donations to get work on Calfee off the ground. They based that on the $2.5 million price tag their architectural firm at the time, Thompson and Litton had provided for construction.

Then, Hickman said, COVID struck.

“We weren’t prepared for that,” Hickman told the supervisors.

He said organizers had to hire a new architectural firm and put bids out again.  Balzer and Associates won the bidding.

“They immediately told us the old $2.5 million figure would not work and it needed to be $3.5 million. And counting furniture and equipment, it was going to be closer to $4 million,” Hickman said.

“We were disappointed because we thought that we had raised that money, so we set to work to go for the $4 million,” Hickman stated.

Hickman said partisan politics cost the project some funding sources at the state and federal levels and ate up valuable time.

“We had to go back to the drawing board,” Hickman said, noting that Jill Williams, Consultant and Acting Executive Director for the project came up with another potential funding source – the federal EDA grant.

“We have a chance to get $1 million, but there is a stipulation,” Hickman said. “We have to match $200,000 locally, and so we went to Pulaski Town Council who recently agreed to fund $100,000 of that.”

Hickman expressed appreciation to the supervisors for helping the project in the past, including some $45,000 in loans over the last three years, additional money from the CARES Act and other initiatives.

He said all funds related to the federal grant would go to construction costs only.

Hickman told the supervisors that Calfee organizers have come to the realization that “we might not can fund all our purposes.”

“We’re not going to give up on that, but know this, the childcare center and the community kitchen will happen if we get this grant,” he said, noting Calfee will create and work on the other plans when and where it can.

The 100-child childcare center – dubbed the Harmon Learning Center – along with the Huckstep Community Kitchen are but two of the planned features of the Calfee project. Others include the Calfee Training School Museum, Broadneaux – Baker Hall and office spaces, Venable Digital Learning Lab and natural outdoor playspaces including the Walter “Jingles” White Sankofa Walk.

In her presentation, Villinger said the Calfee project supports and aligns with several items in the county’s comprehensive plan.

She noted the project has received some $651,949 in private sector donations. She said the timeline for the project includes contractor procurement in the fall / winter of 2022-2023 with construction beginning next year followed by completion and opening of the project in 2024.

Robinson District Supervisor Jeff Reeves said the $100,000 request “is a big ask,” but added, “it is the county’s policy that if we can leverage funds we have to bring in funds we don’t have otherwise, unless there’s strings attached, we need to try and do that. I don’t see any strings attached to this we can’t agree with.”

Reeves said if the county can gain $800,000 more to renovate an historic structure that is blighted right now that has national and state historical significance, “I think it is in our best interests to do so.”

Hickman interjected that he also thought the grant would bring $800,000 plus the $200,000 from the town and county, when actually the amount gained with the grant and local match would bring in $1.2 million.

Reeves then offered a motion to approve the $100,000 for the project with several conditions, including that the funds can only be used for renovation and construction of the Calfee project and not for salaries, payroll, contract labor, reimbursements, etc.

A final condition states the Calfee project organizers must agree in writing that no further funding requests will be made of the county for a period of six years.

“This is a way to help you and it won’t break up the county either … $100,000 is a big ask,” said Draper Supervisor Dirk Compton. “You guys have really produced. If it was anybody else …”

“Well, it fits in with our goals, our comprehensive plan and our ‘40 by 30’ as well,” said Board Chairman Laura Walters.

Old County Jail

Also, during Monday’s meeting, supervisors voted unanimously to transfer ownership of the old county jail on East Main Street in Pulaski to the county’s Economic Development Authority.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said transferring ownership of the property to the EDA is the best means to find the best use or disposition of the property to get it back on the tax rolls.

The old jail has come under scrutiny of late after complaints from the Town of Pulaski that its present condition represents a code violation in the town.

McCready’s Last Meeting

Monday’s meeting was the final one for McCready who is serving in Massie District following the resignation earlier of former supervisor John Travis.

Travis resigned his seat on the board after moving from the Massie District.

McCready’s time as a supervisor will end with the Nov. 8 election of Mike Mooney as the new supervisor.  Mooney is the only candidate for the seat on the ballot. Mooney officially becomes the new Massie representative on the board the day after the election.

During the supervisor comment period at the end of Monday’s meeting, McCready expressed concern over what he called “serious concerns” over water and sewer matters in the Town of Pulaski.

“We continue to have in the Town of Pulaski, serious sewer problems and a serious odor problem because of those serious sewer problems. I noticed just this week there were 40 or so comments [on Facebook] about the odor coming out of the Critzer pump station, which is operated by the Town of Pulaski. It’s been a problem for years,” he said.

McCready then brought up water problems, and what he termed “serious water line breaks.”

“These county offices had to be closed one-half day due to the lack of drinking water. We had a situation on Saturday, where a major break of a water line in the Town of Pulaski caused Pulaski Fire Department to place all the other fire departments in this county on standby to bring their tankers to the town if they had any kind of fire,” McCready said, adding that there could potentially not have been enough water available to extinguish a fire.

“That is a serious problem,” he stated. “Repeatedly having breaks in the water system, the water system is telling you it’s tired, it’s worn out.

“The town supplies drinking water and fire protection to this whole section of the county here, and I am very much concerned that action needs to be taken. We simply cannot have our citizens having to deal with boil water notices.”

McCready said he still has a number of concerns over how the county’s school system is being operated, “And I will continue to work with folks to try and make a difference in that.”

He wished both Cloyd Supervisor Adam Hall and Reeves well in their election efforts, along with Mooney.

“Pulaski County is a great place to live, to work, to recreate, to invest and I intend to continue to invest my money right here in Pulaski County. The decision I made almost 40 years ago is the right decision today, and I encourage other businesses to take a hard look at Pulaski. We’re on the move to make improvements all the time. This is a great community to live in and I’m proud to be a resident.”