Finally: Jefferson School ready for renovation
The long-delayed renovation of the historic Jefferson School could begin as early as this week. A private group that purchased the property from the city for $100,000 signed papers August 1 for a $12-million loan, clearing the way for work to start on the nearly $18-million project.
"It's a big, big step and we're very excited," says attorney Steve Blaine, one of the citizens tapped by the city to form the Jefferson School Community Partnership LLLP to salvage the aging structure, once the heart of Charlottesville's black community during segregation, and turn it into a community center with nonprofit tenants and an African-American heritage center. "The contractor is mobilized and ready," says Blaine.
The fate of the Jefferson School has been under discussion since the school closed its doors to students in 2002. Once the current plan was in place, the project was stalled first by the recession, and then by a court decision earlier this year that ruled Virginia tax credits, upon which the project hinged, could be considered taxable to the investors who purchased them, timing that Blaine calls "a bit of a bombshell."
Several donors made pledges to satisfy lender Union First Market Bank that money would be there to repay the loan, says Blaine. He declines to identify the donors or how much they ponied up, but says they had already agreed to contribute to the fundraising arm of the project, which will support the African-American Cultural Heritage Center.
"These donors reached out and made donations now," says Blaine. "It was a real shot in the arm and got us over the hump."
Along with the $12-million bank loan, the city is loaning $5.7 million to the project through CEDA, a.k.a. the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority.
Tenants such as the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, Piedmont Virginia Community College, and the city's parks and recreation, which will lease the refurbished Carver Recreation Center, have been signed for a couple of years to get space in the primo downtown location.
Blaine promises a celebration of the signing in early September. "The hard part is done," he says. "The easy part is doing the building."
Correction and update August 29: Milestone Partners incorrectly were identified in the original version, and rehab is being done by Kjellstrom and Lee.