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Bunche panel seeks meeting

The committee working to turn the former Ralph Bunche school into a museum recently asked the King George Board of Supervisors to sit down with them and talk about what to do next.

Supervisor Chairman Joe Grzeika suggested the committee get back to work instead.

Grzeika said he expected the Ralph Bunche Advisory Committee to present a business report that spells out the plans, including the needed financing to renovate the former all-black school on U.S. 301.

“Until we have that, we’re all talking in circles,” Grzeika said.

But Nadine Lucas, committee chair, told the board her group has hit the same “squirrelly” roadblock several times.

“You own the property, we don’t, so we can’t do stuff to your property without your approval,” she said.

That’s why she wanted a work session with the board to see if both groups were still on the same page.

Last year, the supervisors gave the committee permission to move forward with plans for a museum.

The advisory group said its first task would be to develop a business plan—and Grzeika reminded Lucas of that at the supervisors’ June 24 meeting.

“We know, that’s why we came back,” Lucas said, then added: “It’s a lot different when you’re putting those pieces together, and we know we don’t have control over things.”

“It’s taking longer than you thought?” Grzeika asked.

“For sure,” she responded.

Grzeika reiterated that the board needed information about funding sources as well as operations in the building and how they would be maintained.

Lucas said committee members have met with officials at the University of Mary Washington’s historic preservation department. Professor Cristina Turdean teaches a class on museum exhibitions, and the committee has asked her class to consider Ralph Bunche as its next project.

“Hopefully we will be selected,” Lucas said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

In the past year, the committee has set up smaller groups to focus on building and plans; development of a brochure and panel board to tell the story of the school; and finance and marketing.

Members also have met with officials with the Small Business Development Center of UMW.

The committee has said in previous meetings that it plans to tell the story of desegregation in the state—and nation—through the prism of what happened at Ralph Bunche.

Opened in 1949, the school was the result of a landmark federal court case. It was built in an attempt to ensure “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites.

“We were sort of a test case in the upper South,” Lucas said during a previous interview.

Other committee members have pointed out that “separate but equal” was in name only. Ralph Bunche students, like those in other black schools, regularly got hand-me-downs from the white schools.

The facility educated King George’s black students until 1968 and has a lot of nostalgic value to graduates, committee members have said.

After integration, the school served the county’s kindergartners and later housed School Board offices, but hasn’t been used for instructional purposes for years.

Since 1997, the Ralph Bunche Alumni Association has pleaded for something to be done with its alma mater before it falls into disrepair. The School Board owned the property until 2009, when it turned the deed over to the the supervisors.

The county spent about $126,000 to move two-rooftop air-conditioning units that caused stress—and leaks—and to replace broken windows and doors and fix drainage problems.

In August 2012, the county approved a charter for the advisory group, which has been meeting since then.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

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