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K.G. County Administrator Travis Quesenberry speaks
Ralph Bunche Alumni Association member Nadine Lucas (right) views the gymnasium inside the former school building while touring with county officials in April.
By CATHY DYSON
More than 120 people--most of them members of the Ralph Bunche Alumni Association--packed the King George Board of Supervisors meeting room this week to show support for saving the former school.
"We wanted to show you some new faces, and there are a lot of them here tonight," said Ernestine Jefferson, president of the roughly 300-member alumni group.
After residents took all the seats in the board room Tuesday night, county officials pulled out more chairs. But there were still more than a dozen people standing.
The crowd spilled out into the foyer for the supervisors' meeting, which included discussions on several road projects and lasted more than four hours.
The Ralph Bunche Alumni Association gave a slide show that detailed the history of the school, which was named after a diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner. It educated the county's African-American students from 1949 to 1968.
Claudette Jordon, a 1967 graduate, asked the county to form a new committee and move forward with plans to restore the school. A consultant has suggested it could be turned into a museum or community center.
The school has been used by other county offices since the school closed and the system integrated. In recent years, the building has not been occupied daily, and alumni discovered during a tour in April that time and neglect have taken their toll on the building.
Water has leaked into the building and damaged ceilings and floors, and county departments are using the building as a storage place for old files, broken equipment and seemingly everything else no one wants to throw away.
But as Jordon pointed out, King George isn't the only locality to be in this situation. African-American schools in Westmoreland County and Bel Alton, Md., were renovated recently.
"It can be done," she declared, and members of the audience echoed, "It can be done!"
There were also several choruses of "Amen" during Jordon's presentation, but the meeting really took on the feel of a church service when Supervisors Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr. spoke.
He said how much it meant to see all the people in the audience, and that they all need to work together.
He said he knows how other African-American residents feel when they watch their alma mater fall into ruin while new facilities are built around the county.
"I think we get discouraged as a people when we see the brand new library, the new Sheriff's Office, the YMCA," he said. "Why have we been overlooked when there seems to be so much money for everything else?"
Brooks said he believes "God kept me here for a reason" after a November 2010 stroke. He hopes the school building will be restored in his lifetime.
The alumni group asked the county for an immediate cleanup of the building and to establish a new advisory committee by July 31. The new group would be composed of supervisors, alumni, county staff and community members. The committee would review the consultant's report and determine a use for the building, then seek funding and develop a timeline for restoration.
Supervisor Ruby Brabo said she would be honored to serve on that committee, and the audience applauded. Supervisor John LoBuglio said, "You've always got my support," and the audience applauded again.
Supervisor Joe Grzeika said the county was ready, years go, to move forward with restoration, but can't immediately because of the economy. But he believes the building's "bones are good," and, "It will be part of the planning process."
The supervisors plan to meet, perhaps next month, to discuss capital improvement plans, including the Ralph Bunche school.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425