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Yancey Workgroup recommends public-private partnerships
20131212-Frances Feggans
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Yancey Workgroup Chair Frances Feggans (Center) addressed the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and School Board Thursday
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by Tim Shea | Friday, December 13, 2013 at noon

A group of southern Albemarle citizens wants to transform Yancey Elementary School into an “intergenerational learning center.”

In December 2012, due to low enrollment at the Esmont school, both the Albemarle School Board and Board of Supervisors charged the Yancey Workgroup with finding additional uses for the building.

On Thursday, the group recommended that the school building play home to a host of public-private partnerships to deliver increased services to southern Albemarle.

“Initiatives that bring people together, that efficiently use economic and human capital, and respond positively to future societal trends are catching the attention and imagination of generous individuals, corporations, foundations, and enlightened government decision makers,” member Gordon Walker said.

Walker is the former head of the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and a past chair of the School Board.

The plan suggests growing programming and adding two staff positions, and requests a funding commitment from the Board of Supervisors to be used in order to leverage additional money.

“Once the County has clearly defined its financial and essential commitment for elevating Yancey School as a community-wide resource, there is every reason to believe a successful public-private capital campaign will succeed,” Walker said.

Over the last ten years, Yancey’s enrollment has remained steadily below 200. According to the Virginia Department of Education, Yancey is serving 151 students this year, including 16 preschool students, which is up from 133 students last year.

Albemarle’s largest elementary school is Brownsville, which is serving 680 students this year.

Albemarle completed a $625,000 heating, ventilation, and air conditioning upgrade on the building during the summer of 2013, and next year Albemarle has plans for a $412,000 roof renovation, Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said.

They are also in the process of purchasing seven acres of land on either side of the school to upgrade the septic system. The septic work will be completed by October 2014, Giaramita said.

Since April, the Workgroup has met with community stakeholders and conducted surveys to identify the community’s needs. Nearly 200 surveys were returned and identified childcare and programming for school children and seniors, as well as workforce training, technology access, and healthcare facilities as community needs.

Over 80 percent of respondents said the community needs workforce skills and youth programming, and about 60 percent identified healthcare as a need, the report shows.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker agreed.

“This is an area of the County that needs some additional services, and I think it is important to find a way to get those services off the ground,” Rooker said.

But Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said the plan would create “hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, and maybe millions if we’re talking about expanding the school.”

“Is this intended to be a self-sustaining operation?” Boyd asked. “Are you looking for funding from the County on this, or are the non-profits going to step up? Because there’s nothing in our [capital budget] in the upcoming years for any of this.”

Rooker said that the project would get “looked at more seriously” in the budgeting process because it would be largely grant-funded.

The Workgroup first presented the idea of growing Yancey into a community center to the Board of Supervisors in August, at which time they were urged to identify potential sources of private funding.

Thursday’s plan presented a list of 16 potential sources.

Workgroup coordinator Charlotte Brody said the proposed model would depend on these partnerships.

“We’re neither recommending that private dollars be found for one-hundred percent for this vision of the future, nor that this be funded entirely by the County,” Brody said. “[We will] create a dynamic fundraising committee that finds other sources of funds.”

But Boyd continued to express concern that local government investments would result in an additional tax burden on citizens.

“I don’t have any problem taking it to the next step, I think it’s a very laudable project to do,” Boyd said, “but I’m just trying to come back to the reality that we’re pretty strapped right now for cash in this community.”

School Board member and Supervisor-elect Diantha McKeel said it’s too early in the process to answer Boyd’s question definitively.

“If we just answered your question and said there was no money, the project would be dead and I don’t think anyone around the table wants that to happen, so we’ll take one step at a time,” McKeel said.

School Board Chair Steve Koleszar complimented the Workgroup on making the most of the situation.

“They’re not waiting to design a perfect project,” Koleszar said. “They’re going ahead with some things that they can do now, using the existing space more, and creating more interaction between the community and the school.”

Giaramita said that the upcoming budget year will be tough for the schools, but that the intergenerational center could pay serious dividends to southern Albemarle.

“The long range hope is that when you’re creating that broad value, making investments are more cost-effective,” Giaramita said. “And if you’re making the community more desirable, maybe you can attract more businesses.”

“So it’s an attempt to look at a multi-generational concept and use that as a catalyst to improve the quality of life in an underserved community,” Giaramita added.

McKeel suggested the Board of Supervisors and School Board hold a retreat to discuss the CIP and priorities.  McKeel will succeed the retiring Dennis Rooker as the Jack Jouett District representative on the Board of Supervisors in January.

“We have a growing county, an urbanizing county, and I think that would be beneficial,” McKeel said.

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