The building, which organizers have said will serve as a hub for multicultural programming, was the site of Langston High School, Johnson City’s public African-American high school from 1893 until the school system was integrated in 1965.
Randy Trivette, Johnson City’s director of facilities management, confirmed that renovations should be complete by the end of September, and he said there’s a good possibility that the facility would be ready to open in October.
“That’s the target we’re shooting for, but it’s still a moving target depending on the weather,” he said.
Trivette said the project’s contractor, GRC Construction Services, is about 98% done with the work on the building. Lighting has been installed, and the elevators and fire alarms are operational.
The city’s public works department will perform the facility’s grading and finish the sidewalks, parking lot, curbing and landscaping. Trivette said they’re scheduled to start work next week. General Shale, which has donated bricks and labor for the project’s fencing, has about two or three weeks worth of work left, Trivette said.
Renovations to the old high school began in late 2018. The building was previously used as a maintenance facility for the Johnson City School System and fell into disrepair over the years, with broken window panes, leaks and asbestos.
Dickson said organizers are holding meetings in preparation for an official ribbon cutting, but have not yet determined an exact day.
“There has not been an exact date pinned down,” he said, “but right now, again, those conversations are being held.”
One option, he said, could be to coincide the event with the November 1893 opening of Langston High School.
Additionally, Dickson said he’s given serious thought to the center’s programming, which from his perspective will focus on three areas: community arts, education and leadership.
“We believe that knowledge is power, but there’s another component to that,” he said. “The knowledge that you now gain, how do you take it back out into the community and build up the community, make the community more thriving, more flourishing?”
Dickson said the city has recently received a grant that will pay for STEAM education in grades 3-8, providing $103,000 a year for five years.
The center also wants to work with adults, Dickson said, to sharpen their abilities as leaders, fostering a stronger and more vibrant community, and work with high schoolers to ensure they are on track for post-secondary education and employment.
“There’s a lot on the plate right now when we think of those three areas,” Dickson said.
He also anticipates Black History Month in February will be an opportune time for the center to hone in on specific events and programming for the center.
Michael Young, the chairman of the Langston Education and Arts Development group, which includes alumni of Langston High School and has spearheaded the revitalization of the building, said the organization is anxious to see the center up and running. He estimates it’s been four years since LEAD’s first meeting.
“When you’ve worked on something so long, ... you’re cautious,” said Young, who is also an alumni of the old high school. “Because it’s been a dream for so long and it’s been a goal for so long, and you can see where it’s about to ... become a reality, if you will, and you’re just kind of holding your breath.”
Young compared the feeling to waiting the whole year for Christmas and opening that first present on Christmas Day.
“A lot has gone into trying to make this be a reality,” he said.
Going forward, Young said LEAD will provide input on the center’s programming and will continue fundraising to pay for events and programs at the facility. Input from students, Young said, will help determine the kinds of programs on offer and what the funding will pay for.
“It’s going to be a matter of ... trial and error as to what works,” he said.