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‘We take pride in our history’

South Boston News
South Boston Mayor Ed Owens cut the ribbon to officially open the new Washington-Coleman Community Center. First row, Jimmy Epps of B&B Consultants, councilman Bob Hughes, town manager Ted Daniel, councilman Morris Bryant, Owens, council member Tina Younger and Mentor Role Model director Angela Yancey. Second row, architect Tom Starbuck, Andy Flowers and Joey Ambrose of McDannald Construction Company, recreation director Matt McCargo and councilman Bill Snead. (David Conner II photo)
SoVaNow.com / September 30, 2013


Alumni and teachers of the former Washington Coleman School were in town Saturday morning to witness the beginning of a new life for the historic building, transformed into the Washington-Coleman Community Center.

Members of the school community joined members of South Boston Town Council and Town Manager Ted Daniel to cut the ribbon to officially open the $2.2 million renovated facility.

The Washington-Coleman Community Center has been repurposed to serve as an Early Learning Center for three and four year olds, as well as home to the Mentor Role Model program. One side of the structure will include a history hall, and a large portion will be designated for use as a community gathering place, where individuals can socialize and meet, access the internet and use the computer lab.

Daniel recounted the story of the facility from its beginnings as a Rosenwald School built for $8,000 on a 3.5 acre plot back in 1929-1930. The school was then named the Booker T. Washington High School. In 1948 through 2008, it served as the Washington Coleman Elementary School. Until desegregation in the early ‘70s, the school was exclusively for African-Americans.

“We take tremendous pride in our history,” said Daniel.

One of the graduates of the Class of 1942, Odell Thompson, who served on the committee that spearheaded the restoration effort, recounted her memories of being a student at Washington-Coleman. When she started there, her class had 36 members. By graduation, there were only six members left, since the males had all left to join the military after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In many cases, she recalled, the female students followed them. She also remembered the school’s pride in the basketball team, the only sport that was offered in those days.

Other members of the committee who guided the renovation were Lydia Faulkner, who graduated from the high school in 1947, and Pat Jennings, who taught at Washington-Coleman for 30 years.

Other committee members include Joe Griles and Valdivia Marshall, school division representatives who offered input on the Early Learning Center, as well as Tom Shepherd, a town resident, and Morris Bryant, a member of South Boston Town Council.

“This is your facility, it belongs to the people of South Boston,” said Mayor Ed Owens, who praised the teamwork involved in getting the project underway. Owens said he was happy that Town Council was able to provide the financing to carry out the renovation of the historic old facility.

He also had high praise for Daniel, who, he said, devoted countless hours, much of it his personal time, to see the project through.

Also addressing the crowd was David Martin, chairman of the Mentor Role Model program, who said it has never had “a home like this”with sufficient office space and an activity room.

Angela Yancey, the program’s director, said Mentor Role Model will serve as one of the anchors of the center, where it can expand its involvement with at-risk youth. Praising the vision of the originators of the Mentor Role Model program, Gatha Richardson and Harvey Dillard, Yancey said their ongoing efforts to help local youth after both retired from careers in education was inspiring to all.

The history hall contains one room filled with old desks that were once used at the school, and a pot bellied stove in the corner of the room. The maple flooring was saved from the old Cotton Mill factory. The old desks were found stored in the basement underneath the original library and were refinished by Doug’s Reproductions.

Daniel said he had hoped to have retired Judge Frank Slayton speak at the opening ceremony, but due to poor health he was unable to attend.

“But he was very helpful in drafting the plans since he had earlier served on the South Boston School Board and had supported our efforts to restore the old facility,” Daniel said.

He added that he had hoped to have Judge Joel Cunningham present for the occasion, but the judge was out of town at the time.

Daniel thanked architect Tom Starbuck and McDannald Construction, lead contractor for the project, for their work in bringing about the restoration.

He also praised Jimmy Epps, and engineer for B&B Consultants, who offered numerous ideas on the restoration of the facility. Daniel thanked Town Recreation Director Matt McCargo for his dedication to the project.



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