Johnson City commissioners consider Langston fundraising proposal, Martin Luther King Jr. road change

Zach Vance • Updated Oct 31, 2017 at 8:32 AM

Johnson City commissioners deliberated two significant items during Monday’s agenda review meeting: the Langston High School renovations and the Martin Luther King Jr. street change proposal.

Most of Langston Education and Arts Development Corporation’s board of directors exited the meeting with smiles after presenting a fundraising proposal to renovate the African-American high school, first built in 1892. While it was well-received, commissioners did suggest a few changes to the document, including specifying the amount the city has budgeted toward renovating the high school.

The draft memorandum of understanding only stated the city would commit to funding the building renovations, but did not establish a definite figure, which currently stands at around $1.8 million.

“I’m ecstatic about it. I think from what we listened to tonight, we’ll get the revisions on the MOU, we’ll get the city to sign off on it and then we’ll hit the ground running,” Michael Young, a member of the Langston preservation group, said.

With the help of grant writer Ginger Keller-Ferguson, who presented a feasibility study to commissioners, LEAD is launching a campaign to raise $500,000 to supplement the $1.8 million the city has budgeted toward transforming the high school into a multicultural educational and arts center.

City officials remained steadfast on their April deadline to send out bids for the project, but City Manager Pete Peterson said the bidding process could take as long as 10 weeks, extending the fundraiser’s deadline. 

If the memorandum of understanding is approved on Thursday, the preservation group will have approximately until the first meeting in June to either have $500,000 cash in hand or have a guarantor committed.

The group wants to supplement the city’s funding to enhance the high school’s renovations. Those enhancements included building a foyer and an addition for elevator lift facilities to increase available square footage. 

The other prominent topic, changing King Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard, also was contemplated by commissioners. 

Although the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission recommended the change during its October meeting, commissioners were split on how to proceed with the street renaming. 

During the Planning Commission meeting, nearly a dozen citizens expressed dissatisfaction with King Street, which was deemed a “package” that entailed renaming King Commons Park, installing interstate signage and further investment along the corridor. 

Commissioner Joe Wise suggested splitting the recommendation, changing King Commons Park to honor King and then deferring a vote on the street until a better suggestion was identified. 

Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin posed the question about who would be assigned with finding a better suggestion.

“We’ve asked the Planning Commission to work it out. The Planning Commission went a step further even to develop a committee to work it out,” Van Brocklin said.

“Now, having gone through the logical bodies to put a proposal in front of us, we’re now saying that we’re going to have someone work it out. Who are we going to have work it out? Because I don’t know if the Planning Commission can come up, quite honestly, with a different approach. The only different approach I see involves renaming University Parkway.” 

While University Parkway garnered the most support during a public comment session in August, local 911 and GIS officials present at Monday’s meeting explained that first responders and dispatchers may have difficulties with such a significant street being renamed. 

Others, including Commissioner Todd Fowler and Mayor David Tomita, indicated they would rather vote on the entire recommendation, whether its defer it or accept it. 

To top the meeting off, the commission will also vote on hiring a planning and design consulting company, Kimley-Horn and Associates, to draft a master plan for the West Walnut Street corridor renovations. 

The City Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Commission Chambers at 601 E. Main St. 

To donate to the LEAD fundraiser, send checks payable to LEAD or the Langston Educational Arts and Develop Corporation, to 219 E. Millard St., Johnson City, TN 37601. 

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.






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