The Yancey Community Center is starting to become a reality as long-term tenants finalize leases for the former elementary school.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors was set to approve the Jefferson Area Board for Aging as the center’s second long-term tenant on Wednesday, but JABA asked to postpone the vote to discuss additional logistics.

“I’m not going to get too excited about any of these agencies coming in until they’re finally in and their name is on the contract. Then I’ll do my happy dance,” said Waltine Eubanks, a member of the Yancey Transition Advisory Committee.

The School Board closed Yancey Elementary in May 2017 after losing a $395,000 grant to combat the school’s declining enrollment and test scores. The closure still stings for Eubanks, whose great-grandfather helped open the first school for African-Americans in Esmont on the Yancey Elementary property.

“My first and foremost and heartfelt idea is to reopen Yancey as a community elementary school,” Eubanks said.

African-American children from low-income families in Esmont earn higher incomes as adults, on average, than their peers in most other parts of the county, according to new research from Opportunity Insights. Such outcomes may be related to strong community institutions.

One of Eubanks’ other ideas was to bring JABA into the Yancey Community Center. When Yancey was still a school, Eubanks and other JABA members would come to the school once a month to paint, exercise and read with students there.

These days, Eubanks attends JABA’s senior center on Porters Road in Esmont. It is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on some Wednesdays, Eubanks drives to Scottsville to visit the JABA center there.

“Driving is becoming harder because of arthritis in my hands. When I have to come into Charlottesville, I do as much as I possibly can in that one trip,” she said.

If the Esmont JABA center moves into Yancey as planned, it will have more space — an office and shared use of the nurse’s office, cafeteria and other common areas — and the potential to be open five days a week. This would save Eubanks a car trip, because Yancey is within walking distance of her house.

JABA pairs well with the Education Transformation Centre, the education nonprofit that already has signed a long-term lease for six of Yancey’s classrooms. The two groups already have begun discussing lunch schedules and intergenerational activities.

“Currently, it is very, very quiet. We are the only ones in the building. We are preparing our space for inspection by the Virginia Department of Education,” Dolores Carr, founder of ETC, said in an email. “As groups enter the building, we will try to collaborate to make this a community, not just in words, but deeds also.”

ETC encourages students to find their passion and develop healthier decision-making to prevent detentions, suspensions and encounters with the justice system. ETC will serve students from Charlottesville, Albemarle and surrounding counties.

“In May of this year, we put in a letter-of-intent on another property, which is still in place. We believe once others ‘see’ the impact and positive generational change our program is making, we will need to open additional schools,” Carr said.

The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library Bookmobile, which takes 1,800 to 2,000 books to stops throughout the county, has joined the organizations convening at Yancey. The Bookmobile has long incorporated a stop at the Esmont Post Office into its schedule.

“It used to be that I also went around the corner to Secretarys Sand Road and just made a neighborhood stop over there, but things have changed in that neighborhood, and I wasn’t getting any people anymore,” said Willow Gale, the Bookmobile branch manager. “I had read in the paper and at Charlottesville Tomorrow about the county creating a community center over there, so … I put that forward as an idea for the second Esmont stop.”

Residents can borrow books from the Bookmobile from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month.

The transition team also has organized a history day at Yancey from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 27. Community members can bring photographs and record memories of the school to contribute to an exhibit on the school’s history to go at the front of the building.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.