That sentiment was repeated over and over Thursday evening at city hall as Johnson City commissioners voted 3-0 to fund the full renovation of what remains of Langston High School, Johnson City’s former African-American high school.
Applause erupted from the audience once the vote was over, effectively concluding a three-year effort by former Langston graduates and advocates to transform the old school’s gymnasium into a multicultural arts and education center.
Goins, Rash & Cain Construction Services was selected as the contractor at a price of $2,363,500.
“It’s a long time coming. We’re just blessed,” Langston graduate Bill Coleman said after the meeting.
Last year, the advocacy group, Langston Educational Arts and Development, Inc., launched an initiative to raise $500,000 before June 2018 to enhance the renovation by adding a foyer and ornamental fence.
The LEAD funding was to be combined with the $1.8 million the city already earmarked for the project, but at Monday’s agenda review meeting, City Manager Pete Peterson said the group was short $200,000 and requested a one-year extension.
City leaders wanted assurance that the funding would be there next year, and got it in the form of a credit line from Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union, which partnered with LEAD, to conduct the fundraiser.
Coleman said his biggest thanks goes to credit union CEO Ron Scott.
“He stepped up. And we’ve had several other donors make pledges. Some of them corporate donors that have to wait until their budget cycle, but we’ve got pledges from them,” Coleman said.
Once the project is complete, Vice Mayor Jenny Brock said, for her personally, the Langston ribbon-cutting will be one of her favorite ceremonies she has attended since being elected to the commission.
“I think it's just going to be one of the fine points of our city that we recognize our past, but we position that past and that heritage for the future,” Brock said.
“I think there's some real exciting things, particularly for our youth, that will be done there. It will be, for me personally, one of the best ribbon cuttings I'll attend in my tenure on the commission.”
To help get the price in line, architect Tom Shanks studied each bid and saved roughly $34,000 in “value engineering,” which includes deleting the reflective tinted glass units and revising the sinks to individual lavatories.
Additionally, the city’s Public Works department was able to cut off roughly $220,000 of the cost by agreeing to do the site demolition, grading, sidewalks and sowing the grass seed.
“We have worked very long (and) very hard on a very, very worthwhile project that will make a tremendous statement for the entrance in to our downtown, as you come in off (Interstate)-26. It also preserves and enhances a significant piece of the history of our community,” Peterson said.
“All the while doing this, we're able to build a facility that will allow multi-generational, multi-cultural activities and education. Everything from visual and performing arts to perhaps job training and education. A lot of different opportunities here, while preserving that building and making a really significant reinvestment in our community.”
Once construction starts, the project is expected to take eight months to complete.
On Friday at 5 p.m., LEAD will host a press conference at Langston High School, at the corner of Elm Street and East Myrtle Avenue, to officially launch the public phase of its fundraising campaign.
To learn more about LEAD or contribute toward the fundraiser, visit http://leadlhs.org/.