The $4.3 million renovation of the Reid Center got an official kickoff with a groundbreaking this afternoon, Aug. 8. An array of nonprofit and community organizations are working to turn the Southside mainstay into a hub for education, job training and the local community.
"It's always been an important part of the community, it's always been a place that people could come and be changed, transform and be safe," Mayor Terry Bellamy said. "This is an opportunity to transform this corner, this portion of the fabric of the community."
"Today is not just a testimony to money coming to our community," she continued. "It's about our community coming together to ensure a piece of our community stays."
Founded as the Livingston Street School in the 1920s, the current building dates to the 1950s. After its tenure as an elementary school for African-American children ended in 1969, the city took over, converting it into a community center. But in the last few years, city officials decided to demolish the aging structure. Then in 2011, a group of locals came together as the Southside Community Advisory Board to try to renovate the center. With help from the city and a federal Housing and Urban Development grant, an alliance of groups — including the Asheville Housing Authority, Asheville Green Opportunities, the community board, and others — secured funding and will occupy space in the new center.
"My father, my mother, and my aunts all attended," board chair Priscilla Ndiaye said of the school. "It was instrumental in creating a solid foundation for a sustainable community, resulting in many successful professionals and business owners."
Arthur Eddington, the last principal of the Livingston Street School from 1961-69, was also on hand, describing the center as an integral part of the community and one he was glad is now reviving.
Through a combination of training and contract clauses throughout the renovation, Asheville Green Opportunities aims to place 100 locals in jobs. With the first phase of the project — asbestos removal — complete, GO has trained 16 people, of which contractor D.H. Griffin hired eight, and kept five for permanent jobs the first phase was over.
The same sort of training and hiring, co-director Dan Leroy said, will continue throughout the project. GO is also aiming to have a LEED-certified building, a community garden, and other environmentally friendly features.
Asheville Housing Authority CEO Gene Bell said he hopes that from its sustainable construction to the hiring of locals, the project can serve as a model across the country.
For more on the Reid Center renovation and its impacts, check out the upcoming Aug. 14 issue of Xpress.