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HILLSVILLE — While most speakers at last Thursday’s special meeting on possible reuses for Woodlawn School wanted to see the current activities continue, a new idea emerged to turn it into a youth and community facility known as “The Cavalier Center.”
Sarah Jo Jones, Extension 4-H agent and Carroll native, knows from her own experience and that of the youth she works with that they “need a central location where services are offered that cater to their creativity, education, social news and a place to have fun in a safe and controlled environment.” She shared this in a written proposal with the Carroll County supervisors presiding over the meeting.
“Of course, the proposed location is Woodlawn, but I also want to throw this out there — if this isn’t going to work for Woodlawn, I still think this is a good idea,” she stressed to the county officials. “I want this to happen for our county and our community, whether it’s at Woodlawn school or if it’s somewhere else.”
Jones could see many advantages to collecting all county-sponsored youth services at the former school.
With its gym and ballfields to use for recreation, it would also be a great place to put the county recreation department office. Jones also hoped that the school system would provide transportation to Woodlawn in order to facilitate internship activities for high school students and provide other educational activities.
The current sports and community uses wouldn’t change, except the rec department could be located at the school, as she sees it.
County officials have already launched a feasibility study on a water park and pool, and Jones felt that Woodlawn would be a fitting place for it. She foresees the pool also providing a stream of revenue to help the Cavalier Center operate.
“As a new mom, there is a very short supply of good, reliable, affordable day care,” Jones said. “I think it would be possible to rent out part of the space to an independent person to have a day care.”
Offerings for youth to relax would be an important feature of the proposed Cavalier Center. She would include a coffee shop with wifi, a movie theater and a game room. “Our young people do not have a place where they can go to just hang out.”
Sales of coffee and baked goods at the cafe could provide some work for youth, as well. The movie theater and coffee shop would offer opportunities to sell concessions and raise money for the community center.
A lot of people in the Twin Counties can’t go to the movies because they can’t afford it. The cost of movies in Mount Airy, N.C. is “outrageous,” for example.
Jones believes it would be good to offer for our families to have a place to go for activities.
Jones can foresee Woodlawn hosting after-school enrichment activities, which would fall outside the daily grind of Standards of Learnings for educators.
“Our teachers are so constrained in their classrooms right now because they have to teach the SOLs, and I think this could help renew their spirit.”
The Cavalier Center could offer hands-on and fun activities like sewing, baking, art, cooking and science experiments.
Similarly, Woodlawn could be a place where youth would sign up for SOL tutoring. That could include online self-led activities, such as offerings from Kahn Academy.
Outdoor adventures — like hiking trips, canoeing, geo-caching, camping, biking or caving — could be arranged through the Cavalier Center, Jones said. Radford University students in the outdoor recreation major could do their required internship at the community center.
The cafeteria could be leased to an outside company to provide a private catering service.
And many events aimed at youth could fill a big void in Carroll, Jones said.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity to hold events,” she said. “I’ve been offering dances for our kids, and I have on average 150 kids come to these dances — that goes to show you there’s nothing for these kids to do.”
She listed the many activities that could go on, including gaming tournaments, concerts, holiday parties, day camps, seasonal activities, talent shows and more.
The Cavalier Center would need a staff, but Jones hoped that volunteers and youth could provide some of that.
The facility would also need to bring in revenue to pay for the operation, and one idea involves possible membership fees, like the county’s wellness center.
Grants could also help, and Jones indicated that she would learn how to write for grants, if need be.
“I see you’ve put some good time in this and got some good thoughts,” Supervisor Sam Dickson reacted to Jones’ ideas.
“With the work that I do, I see on a regular basis that these kids need something to do,” answered the 4-H agent.
She said studies show that the more positive options that kids have to choose from, “the less trouble they’re going to get into.”
A Home for Ruritans?
Willis Rotenizer said the Woodlawn Ruritan Club wants to enjoy the same good fortune as other groups and be able to hold their meetings in a public facility.
Though his family has an extensive history with the school, he denied speaking up for sentimental reasons.
“I’m here for these people,” he said, waving his hands at a row of attendees in the audience, which totaled about 28. “That’s our asset in the community [indicating the citizens]... and that school building is the other asset.”
The Ruritan club had been previously denied the use of Woodlawn, so the organization has turned to various places to meet and hold fundraisers, including the Grover King VFW Post in Hillsville, the Carroll County Search and Rescue building, Woodlawn United Methodist Church and private homes.
“So, we’re the bastards out there, really,” Rotenizer said, referencing the club’s seemingly unwanted status. “We would appreciate this building staying open.”
Woodlawn is still needed by the community. “Where else are we going to go?”
Two players for Carroll County Special Olympics and several adults spoke up for keeping Woodlawn available to the public.
Both Jeannie Ritchie and LaRae Hall told the supervisors that they spend their Sundays playing basketball at Woodlawn.
“I’m here to ask you to please allow our team to continue these practices at Woodlawn, not only as a place to play, but a place for use to be with our friends and celebrate our skills,” Hall added.
Head Coach Vickey Ritchie noted that, though Special Olympics has used Woodlawn for 11 years, most people associate the team with Carroll Middle School, where the spring basketball game is held.
“We have always been proud to be at Woodlawn School — it’s a great facility and it’s a great community.”
Woodlawn is central to the 57 athletes who participate, and is much more suitable than the elementary schools in the county.
Jeremy Hendrick spoke for the Camo Church, which he pastors.
Having recently obtained the old Friendship Baptist Church on Raiders Road, the congregation hopes to have an alternative to getting in and out of the property from the dangerous intersection at U.S. 58.
Hendrick has consulted with county officials to see if they’d be willing to sell or lease a lot near the school’s former adult education center that connects to Woodlawn Road.
An old, long unused tennis court is just sitting there, too, he said.
“We would love to be able to get that facility to fix it up and, not just make it a place for us to use as a church, but a place for our community to use,” he said.
Matthew Thompkins spoke for his father in asking the supervisors to ensure there are enough sports facilities to best suit the spring sports teams.
The baseball team went to 18 regional tournaments, and he attributed that success to being able to use the Woodlawn field and the gym, in the midst of all the other sports activities going on.
“If Woodlawn is taken away from us, the ball will roll downhill, so to speak,” Thompkins said. “I feel without Woodlawn as a facility for us to use in the spring sports as a whole, it could be crippling to Carroll County on a competitive level.”
Keith Meredith spoke for the Carroll County Board of Elections, which hopes to keep the voting precinct at Woodlawn.
“Laws are in place [that say] if we do relocate that polling place, we have to give ample notification,” he explained. “We have to send out new voting cards — a fairly lengthy process. As you weigh your decisions we would like some direction there.”
Building Condition Questioned
Brenda Quesenberry said she remembers attending an event with the Carroll educators and county supervisors at Woodlawn, with the purpose of showing what poor condition it was in.
An outside wall bowed, she recalled. Floors in the restrooms had sunk, and old wooden floors had been cleaned with oil.
“This, and the windows being bricked shut, made the complete building a fire hazard in itself,” Quesenberry said. “We were told how they needed to get the children and staff out of the school before something happened and someone was injured or perhaps killed.”
Even then, the building needed major repairs or needed to be torn down before somebody got hurt there.
“My husband and I would like to know why the Carroll County supervisors need to continue spending money on this building,” she concluded.