Restoration nearing end on town’s former school

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM


Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained erroneous information about a past performance called "The Big Show." This performance has already occurred and tickets are not available.


Renovations are nearing completion at Jonesborough’s McKinney Cultural Arts Center at Booker T. Washington School.

Town Operations Manager Craig Ford expects the work to wrap up by early May, just in time for the Jonesborough Juried Art Show scheduled to open at the new center on May 24.

If the weather cooperates, Ford said, “I believe we can have it done by then.”

Built in 1940 with funding from the federal Works Progress Administration, Booker T. Washington School served first- through eighth-grade African-American students in the Jonesborough area through the integration of Washington County schools in 1964.

The building was used for storage by the county through 1980, and had sat idle for three decades when in 2010 Jonesborough launched an initiative to restore and expand the building for use as a center for performing and cultural arts.

The center has been named in honor of Washington County educator Ernest McKinney, the first African-American elected to Jonesborough’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and his son, Kevin, the town’s first African-American mayor, to pay tribute to their family’s many contributions to the community.

When completed the center will provide a hands on art instruction program for the town’s residents and visitors, a cultural enrichment and performing arts program for schoolchildren made possible by a $450,000 gift from the Mary B. Martin family, and exhibits that will tell the story of Jonesborough and its residents with special emphasis on the town’s African-American heritage.

Work on the building, including the construction of a two-level addition that will provide the center with a full kitchen, restrooms and lower-level storage, began in earnest in 2011.

With the assistance of skilled laborers from the Carter County Work Camp, the work has moved rapidly since the early December completion of Jonesborough’s downtown improvement project.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Ford, who has led town work crews in the completion of much of the work. “There is no way the town could have gotten all this done without the inmates.”

Heat pump units have been set and duct work completed in the building’s three large classrooms and will wrap up next month in the gymnasium, where major exhibits will be displayed and live performances presented on stage.

Light fixtures and interior doors are on order and expected to arrive in a matter of days. New walls are up, finished and already painted in many of the rooms.

New street lights with underground electrical lines are in place in the parking area. Brick work on the walkway and entrances is expected to begin as soon as the weather permits and wrap up in early spring.

Light fixtures are on order and Ford is working with town staff members to select carpet for the annex and to find the best pricing on exterior doors.

 Also still to be completed, the school’s original oak floors will be sanded and refinished. Special Projects manager Dale Ford described the flooring as “absolutely beautiful,” but said adhesive used to cover it with linoleum at some point is presenting an extra challenge.

“You almost have to grind it off,” Dale Ford said.

“The thing about a project like this is all the public is going to see is the finished product and not all the work that had to be done to get it in this condition,” Craig Ford said.

Beyond renovation, much of the old building has been restored, including the replacement of rotted floor joists, reconstruction of deteriorated window frames and installation of close to 300 new panes of glass.

“It’s really going to look nice when we get it done,” Craig Ford said. “It’s really going to be a nice facility.

In addition to the juried art show, scheduled to run May 24-June 14, students from Jonesborough Elementary and Jonesborough Middle school will present the center’s first live performances May 27-28, beginning at 7 each night.

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