Calfee Training School Project
Honoring the Past, Planning for the Future
The Calfee Training School, with its rich historical significance, is currently sitting empty. Originally built in the late 19th century as an institution for educating African American children in Pulaski, VA, the first Calfee Training School burned down in 1938 and was subsequently rebuilt in 1940. Adjacent to the school property is the TG Howard Center, built by the local African American churches and owned and operated by the Black community. Both have been largely abandoned in more recent years, but a group of people in town have been working to try to revive the TG Howard Center and reclaim this part of the rich history of the town as well as many of the functions the Center and School served.
Pulaski County is a childcare desert. Full-time, licensed childcare capacity in Pulaski addresses only 8.55% of children under the age of 6 (compared to 21.44% in Montgomery County, 13.7% in Floyd, 34.86% in Radford), according to the Alliance for Better Childcare Strategies, a NRV-based coalition. Childcare needs in our County rank among the highest in the NRV with 66.5% of children under 6 with all parents in the labor force (all other counties and Radford are at or below 56%, 2016, American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau). While early childhood education needs are great for all Pulaski County residents, the need is particularly acute for families in need; 23.5% of children under 5 in Pulaski live in poverty, (2016, ACS, US Census). Individuals and organizations in the County have been working for years to address these needs.
Pulaski residents care about our county’s children. In 2017, county voters overwhelmingly supported a tax increase to build a new middle school in a time when similar efforts around the state failed miserably. But supporting children requires more than taking care of them while their parents are working or while they are in school. Pulaski has a diverse and deeply engaged set of individuals and organizations devoted to supporting families and the community, but limited resources, including space, hamper the degree to which these organizations can work together to meet the needs and to lift up their strengths.
In early 2018, a group that included representatives from the YMCA of Pulaski County, Pulaski County Department of Social Services, the Town of Pulaski, Calfee Training School former students and other community members pulled these three conversations together. What if, they wondered, the Calfee Training School could be renovated to reclaim the history of the institution and community, to meet some of the county’s childcare needs and to serve as a community center at which other agencies and organizations could be collocated creating opportunities for collaboration we can’t even imagine right now?
From this conversation has grown the Calfee Training School Project, a multi-faceted set of loosely coordinated initiatives to move this project forward on several fronts including:
- a community visioning process that has engaged over 150 community members,
- a historical memory project guided by a new historical society, supported by a group of youth interns, and tasked with collecting the oral histories and other artifacts and information related to the Calfee Training School;
- and a democratic, community-wide process to establish a board to oversee the future community and cultural center.