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Langston preservationists will present fundraising proposal to Johnson City commissioners

Zach Vance • Oct 29, 2017 at 5:52 PM

With the help of an experienced grant writer, the Langston High School preservation group has crafted a coordinated plan for raising $500,000, which members hope to combine with public monies to finance renovations at the old African-American high school. 

The group’s next step will be convincing Johnson City commissioners the fundraiser is justifiable enough to delay the project’s timeline, and on Monday, the Langston Education and Arts Development Corporation will present city leaders with a memorandum of understanding and feasibility study in hopes of finding common ground.

Ginger Keller-Ferguson, founder of a grant-writing consulting firm, said she’s worked with countless nonprofit fundraising campaigns and believes LEAD is poised to reach its goal.

“I recently worked on a $1.5 million capital campaign, and during the initial brainstorming session, the organization could only come up with about 30 (donor) prospects. In the initial brainstorming session for LEAD, they came up with over 130 prospects,” Keller-Ferguson said. 

“LEAD, as an organization, I feel like maybe they’re not getting the credibility they deserve because the individualized members and their personal networks are impressive. That is a key factor in our determination that this is a feasible campaign.” 

Johnson City leaders have already committed approximately $1.86 million toward transforming the school into a multicultural educational and arts center, but the preservation group wants to contribute more to further enhance that transformation. 

“This is an unusual situation in that we have city-owned property that a nonprofit has come forward to try to establish a public-private partnership to accomplish the renovation of the facility,” Keller-Ferguson said. “The city has worked with various nonprofits on different things over the years, but they really don’t have a precedent for this.”

During the project’s beginnings, the Langston group’s ideas were included in the project’s initial rendering, but once that cost was calculated, it totaled $2.3 million, or about $500,000 more than the city had budgeted. 

Last year, city commissioners allocated $4 million to be used in relocating Johnson City Schools’ maintenance operations out of Langston and into the former MINCO building.

Other costs related to the $4 million included demolishing parts of the old high school’s unusable structure, completing environmental work and fixing the building’s roof. After all that was accomplished, only $1.86 million was left for the actual renovations. 

The initial, more-costly rendering included a foyer and an enclosed area for a staircase or elevator, but city leaders directed architect Tom Shanks to complete another rendering and get the project’s total cost down to $1.86 million.

To do that, Shanks had to move the enclosed area back outside, eliminate the foyer addition and make some aesthetic changes. 

“The big issue here is bringing the elevator lift facilities inside the building, which will eat up a lot of the square footage. Those things just have a big footprint,” Keller-Ferguson said. 

“Not building an addition for that lift tower really is the big detriment. LEAD came forward and started organizing to raise the difference so that the city and LEAD, in partnership, could accomplish the original rendering.” 

The preservation group originally envisioned selling individualized bricks to raise some of that difference, but with Keller-Ferguson onboard, the group can now pursue various state and private grant opportunities.

Many of those grants, however, take six to nine months between the application deadline and the allocation of funding. As it stands now, city leaders hope to bid out the Langston project in April, just six months from now. 

“That in and of itself creates a bit of a timeline issue. We’re trying to make sure the city accommodates a realistic timeline for a fundraising campaign,” Keller-Ferguson said. 

“The city has to know that the $500,000 is going to come through before they bid out the project because are they bidding a $1.8 million project or a $2.3 million project? They have to know which design is being bid.” 

The fundraising campaign’s first step, a feasibility study, is already complete and will be presented to city leaders on Monday. 

Keller-Ferguson said the next step will be a “quiet phase,” which she anticipates beginning soon after a memorandum of understanding is signed by the city and ending sometime around January.

About half a fundraiser’s goal is normally raised during the quiet phase through donations solicited from prospects identified during the feasibility study. 

If all goes accordingly with the City Commission’s consent, Keller-Ferguson anticipates launching the campaign’s public phase during February. 

Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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