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Calfee center ‘more than a museum’

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

When Calfee Community and Cultural Center (CCCC) opens to the public it will be “more than a museum” about Calfee Training School, according to Mickey Hickman, president of the center’s board of directors.

The period of segregation “wasn’t a great time for African Americans because we were treated as second-class citizens. But that’s not what this project is about,” Hickman said during a recent presentation to Pulaski Town Council.

“We’ll certainly remember some of that context — we’re going to have a museum; but I’m so excited for the positive asset the center is going to become for the town of Pulaski,” he added. “Where it was once a hub, a place of great excitement and pride for African American citizens, we hope to make it something equally as positive and embraced by all citizens of the town of Pulaski and Pulaski County.”

In addition to a museum, CCCC also will house a childcare center, natural outdoor play spaces, a community kitchen, computer learning lab, a community event center and office space.

The project was started 15 months ago. The goal is to open in the spring of 2023, but the COVID-19 pandemic and grant funding could push the date back, according to Executive Director Jill Williams.

“It has been a very busy year” for the board of directors, Williams and the many volunteers that are making the project happen, Hickman said. However, “there is still a lot more work ahead of us.”

He and Williams provided a breakdown of the center’s proposed features and their names:

Calfee Training School Museum

The museum will pay tribute to the African American educators at Calfee Training School that, despite having limited resources, enabled their students (including Hickman) to obtain advanced degrees and establish careers. The goal also is to include “educational threads” that mesh with Virginia Standards of Learning and encourage today’s educators to bring students there to learn about the life of Calfee students and educators.

Hickman and Williams said many in the community are simply unaware of the significant history the school, its educators and its students played in desegregation and still play in African American history.

Lucy and Chauncey Harmon Learning Center

Named for training school teacher Lucy Harmon and her husband, principal Chauncey Harmon, this childcare center will offer 100 children from all income levels quality childcare, including drop-in and part-time care.

Lena Huckstep Community Kitchen

Named for the “beloved” Calfee Training School cook, the community kitchen will offer commercial grade facilities food distributors, local caterers, farmers and other food-based entrepreneurs can use to advance their businesses and services.

Williams said this aspect of CCCC plans to partner with Beans and Rice’s new Mobile Food Market; Pulaski Daily Bread, which is interested in offering the community an evening meal; and other area food entrepreneurs working to provide fresh, locally sourced produce to the community.

Dorothy Deberry Venable Learning Lab

Venable was a second grade teacher at Calfee who advocated for her students to have access to the same technology as white students. Plans call for the lab to house a community-accessible computer lab with 13 computer stations.

Williams said agencies such as Fine Arts Center for the New River Valley are interested in using the lab for digital art classes. The lab also could be used for out-of-school tutoring, workforce training, and keeping senior citizens up-to-date on ever-changing technology.

Community Event Center and Office Space

This feature includes a 1,500-square-foot multi-purpose room that can be used for theatrical performances, family gatherings, receptions and community meetings; a 636-square-foot medium sized board room for meeting, classes and smaller gathering; a 341-square-foot gallery for small exhibits and receptions; and136 square feet of rental office space. All spaced are equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Natural Outdoor Play Spaces

Learning center classrooms will open onto natural outdoor play spaces designed for children. Natural and recycled materials will be used. There will be gardens and water features and play spaces are open to the public when the childcare center is not in operation.

Williams said the cost of the project is estimated at $3.5 million, which includes staff and the first year of operation. She said the plan is to raise most of the funding through federal and state grants and historic tax credits. About $200,000 will be raised locally.

“We’ve already raised a good portion of that,” she said, referring to the local funds. The center will bring in “hundreds of thousands of dollars” annually through childcare and other fees.

Hickman thinks the history of Calfee Training School would make a great movie — possibly starring Denzel Washington. He said he gets excited about the project and has “big dreams.”

Pulaski Mayor Shannon Collins encouraged Hickman to continuing dreaming big dreams because eventually “they will happen.”

Hickman reiterated, “It’s more than just a museum. It’s more than just a black building, it’s for all and it will be a tremendous asset.”

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