Martin Burks and Steve Blaine cut the ribbon on the historic restoration they've shepherded since at least 2007. Between them are Andrea Douglas, who heads the African American Heritage Center, and Deborah Burks.
The Jefferson School structure was updated with respect to its architectural past.
photo by lisa provence
When classes ceased in the historic Jefferson School about 10 years ago, the discussion began about what to do with the structure on 4th and Commerce streets that is an important educational resource for generations of African-American families.
Once a plan was established, the private partnership assigned to make it happen still had to find the money to secure a loan for the school's $18-million makeover.
Ground finally broke in August 2011, and more than a year later, on December 11, the ribbon was cut on a shiny and bright Jefferson School City Center.
Visitors saw refinished wood floors and gleaming tall closets in former classrooms that have been re-purposed for the 21st century.
The City Center is anchored on one end by the African American Heritage Center and Carver Recreation on the other, where exercise equipment is already lined up. In between, Martha Jefferson Hospital has provided furnishings for a wellness center, which will focus on childhood obesity.
Parks and recreation chief Brian Daly gives a tour of the city's end of the building, which, at 33,000 square feet, has nearly doubled in size from the space it was occupying before the building was overhauled.
Daly points out the dance studio with its one-way windows, where parents can peer in on their ballerinas without becoming a distraction. There's also an arts and crafts room, a huge gymnastics room, a teen center, a classroom/lounge/meeting room, and, of course, the gymnasium. Below the gym is a multipurpose room with a catering kitchen and stage that will be available for wedding or banquet rentals.
"It's like what we envisioned," enthuses Allison Dickie, one of the 12 members of the Jefferson School Community Partnership LLLP, the private entity created to take advantage of tax credits available for historic restorations. Charlottesville sold the building to the partnership for $100,000, and provided nearly $6 million in loans.
The group also obtained a $12-million loan from Union First Market Bank, which several donors made pledges to secure.
At the ribbon cutting, partnership president (and J.F. Bell Funeral Home general manager) Martin Burks thanked early contributors, including Richard and Leslie Gilliam (he founded Cumberland Resources coal company), John and Renee Grisham, music/real estate magnate Coran Capshaw, and activist/philanthropist Sonjia Smith.
"We're currently in our quiet fundraising stage," said Burks, who also heads the foundation that will support the project long term.
The official open house will be January 19, and by that time, other tenants like Piedmont Virginia Community College, Jefferson Area Board for Aging, and Literacy Volunteers should be moved in.
Also on slate for the school will be the Vinegar Hill Cafe, which will be serving breakfast and lunch during the week.
"We didn't have a cafeteria," says Evelyn Barbour, a former Jefferson student. She points out multiple closets in the back of classrooms, and says they were used to store lunch pails.
Barbour strolls the school she used to attend during the days of segregation and says, "It's like something I'd never dreamed I'd be alive to see."