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Alum Laurie Bland (left) and King George Supervisor Cedell Brooks look through books at the former school.
Ralph Bunche Alumni Association member Nadine Lucas (center) photographs the gymnasium of the former
By CATHY DYSON
For 15 years, the Ralph Bunche Alumni Association has asked King George County to do something with its aged alma mater.
Last week, five members of the group saw the impact time has had on their old high school.
Water has leaked down walls and through the roof to damage ceiling tiles and wooden floors.
Various county agencies have cluttered classrooms and the gymnasium with boxes of old paper records, outdated and broken equipment--and, by the looks of it, everything else employees didn't want to throw away.
"It's worse than I expected," said Ernestine Jefferson, president of the alumni group that has about 300 members. "This is an expensive storage facility, that's what it is."
Still, Jefferson and others in the group, who were part of the Class of 1965, said they believe the problems are fixable.
"Hopefully, we'll get it back," said Nadine Lucas.
Supervisor Cedell Brooks Jr. and County Administrator Travis Quesenberry led the alumni through the two-story building Thursday.
Members asked in February if they could hold their alumni meetings in the school. When Quesenberry said it wasn't in shape for that, Brooks wanted the members to see for themselves.
Also on the tour were Marva Smith, Elaine Harvey and Laurie Bland.
Lucas had been back to the school regularly, but others had been there only once or twice since graduation. She said she hadn't expected as much decline as has taken place in recent years.
"I was surprised it had deteriorated as much as it has. I shouldn't say 'deteriorate'--it's neglect," she said. "Nothing has been done, and they've taken everybody out of here, and there is no maintenance."
The heating and air conditioning systems don't work anymore, Quesenberry said. Plus, someone took most of the commodes, which were original to the school, out of the bathrooms.
Ralph Bunche High School, named for a diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner, educated the county's black students from 1949 until 1968.
After that, it housed various educational programs, such as kindergarten classes and an alternative program for high-schoolers.
Then, the School Board used the building for its offices, and the Sheriff's Office set up some workout rooms.
No one has been in the school on a daily basis "for a while," Quesenberry said.
In 1997, the Ralph Bunche Alumni Association started asking the county to preserve the building that meant so much to the black community.
School Board members said they couldn't do anything with the building because they didn't control finances. Supervisors did.
Supervisors said they couldn't make changes to the building because they didn't own the property. The School Board did.
The alumni group spent 10 years convincing the two boards to sit down together and talk about the fate of the school.
Such a meeting happened in 2008. The county got the deed to the property in 2009 and quickly set aside $50,000 for a study to determine the building's needs and possible uses.
Results were presented in April 2010. Randal Vaughan, vice president of the group, Wiley|Wilson, said the building was sound, but had problems that needed to be fixed.
The consulting group outlined $331,375 worth of work to stabilize the building, including replacing the roof.
The county allocated $126,000. Instead of putting on a new roof, workers moved two air conditioning units that stressed the building and caused leaks.
Workers also corrected drainage problems and replaced broken windows and doors.
"But nothing inside has been repaired," Quesenberry told the group. "There are no funds set aside for that."
Brooks told the alumni that he and fellow supervisors need to come up with a plan for the school.
He said he didn't know where the money might come from, but encouraged them to talk to other supervisors to rally support.
Throughout the hourlong tour, the women laughed about their various memories of school days. They could never get the Bunsen burners to work in the science lab, Harvey said.
When someone came across a box full of brand-new science texts, Lucas said that those couldn't have been theirs. All of their books were hand-me-downs from white schools, she said.
The group took pictures of their homeroom class, where they reported to teacher Mildred Ashton-Holmes every year of high school.
"Everybody satisfied with us getting together today?" Brooks asked.
"Yes, thank you," Bland said. "All we need now is action."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425