By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Nov. 9 — Living Legacy Luray has “big dreams” according to its treasurer Walt Surratt, who presented preliminary design plans for the Andrew Jackson School Memorial Park to the Luray Council on Monday night.
The Virginia Tech Community Design Assistance Center recently completed renderings showing how a greenhouse, container gardens, picnic pavilion, amphitheater, picnic area, playground, walking trail, green space, a fenced-in basketball court and a memorial wall will all flow together to form a community park behind the West Luray Rec Center on West Main Street.
When put on the spot by a member of the Council at Monday’s meeting, Surratt estimated the project cost at about $250,000 — but he also followed that up with, “I have no idea,” because specific construction cost estimates have not been obtained. A statement on the organization’s website in reference to the park project reads, “At present we have no idea of the actual magnitude of this cost, but we roughly estimate it will cost in the low- to mid-six figures.”
The non-profit’s treasurer stated that $70,000 has already been raised for the project.
“I expect that to be over $100,000 in the next couple of months,” Surratt told the Council.
The project could receive as much as $42,000 through an application to the Virginia Brownfields Restoration and Economic Redevelopment Assistance Fund (VBAF) for a grant to assess the property at 630 West Main Street for environmental issues associated with possible historic dumping at the site. At its Sept. 13 meeting, the Luray Council voted unanimously to have the Town act as the agent for the application. If the grant is awarded, the Town will simply act as a conduit for those state funds in order to meet certain requirements of the application.
Surratt reported Monday night that the grant application is almost complete and will be submitted in the coming weeks. The non-profit is also working with Racey Engineering to create plans for moving soil and creating a sloping amphitheater behind the existing building. The playground and basketball court will sit on the far side of an open green space from the amphitheater, and a walking trail will encompass the entire area, as well as an additional trail on the east side of the park.
One of the key features along the paved entrance from Main Street will be a memorial stone wall containing the names of students who attended the Andrew Jackson School, which served black children in Luray through the 1950s.
“Black children living in Luray were educated in a one-room schoolhouse prior to 1924. It serves as part of the foundation of the current structure. The black citizens of Luray raised the bulk of the funds in order to construct the present building, a Rosenwald school…named for the former Chairman of Sears, Julius Rosenwald, who partnered with Booker T. Washington to provide schoolhouses throughout the South for black children. This building is one of over 5,000 built in the early 20th century,” reads a history of the West Luray Rec Center on the website.
The former school named for a black businessman and shopkeeper sat dormant after school integration, but served several purposes over the years, including a night club. Then in 2017, Luray native and local pastor Audre King purchased the property, which he has transformed from a cozy home for pigeons into a comforting and nurturing environment for local children.
But it’s the building’s legacy that will be the focus for the memorial park and a planned museum at the site.
“Until the late 1950s black children living in Luray could not graduate high school at the Andrew Jackson School. They had to attend one of several boarding schools for black children,” a historical summary on the website states. “Some students from Luray went to a boarding school in Manassas, Virginia. Others went to D.C., New Jersey, New York and other distant locations. It took determination and resolve of both students and parents for black children to graduate from high school. This is the legacy we wish to memorialize and remember.”
One amenity the new park will not offer is drive-up parking for vehicles. While the entrance will be paved, it will only be used for deliveries and dropping off visitors to the park. There will, however, be a bike rack available.
“This is not a drive-up park,” Surratt said. “This is a walk-up park.”
As preliminary plans continue, earth moving, soil testing and general clean-up of the site could begin in the spring. Actual construction could begin as early as next summer.
To donate to the Andrew Jackson Memorial Park project, click on this link.
In other business during its Nov. 8 meeting, the Luray Council:
• Unanimously voted to allocate $53,000 in federal Revenue Recovery funds toward hazard pay for all Town employees for service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments of $1,000 per full-time employee and $500 per part-time employee will be dispersed before the end of the year.
• Discussed a request from Ramsey Inc. for a boundary line adjustment to incorporate about 6 acres of property in Fairview Estates into the Town limits to allow for duplexes to be constructed. A copy of the agreement has been provided to Page County for their review and comment. A public hearing will be scheduled when a final version of the agreement is confirmed. Following a hearing, the Council will then decide whether or not to petition the circuit court for approval of a boundary line adjustment.
• Set its next work session for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30 primarily to discuss future allocations of federal ARPA funds to support infrastructure improvements. Council members want to establish guidelines to measure potential projects by objectively for the more than $5 million the town expects to receive in ARPA funding over the next few years. Council members will discuss top priorities for these funds with four department heads — water, wastewater, public works and police — as a starting point. Further discussions about other potential allocations of the funds and the application process for local businesses and non-profits will take place at a later date.
• Heard a report from Luray Downtown Initiative program director Jackie Elliott that nearly 1,000 trick-or-treaters hit Main Street on Oct. 30 for the Town’s Halloween festivities despite poor weather conditions. Luray’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3 at the plaza adjacent to the Rebecca J. Graves Regional Center for the Performing Arts with coco from Baby Moons and holiday music by the Luray High School choir. Downtown Luray’s “Shop Late” program kicks off Friday, Dec. 10 with Main Street shops open until 8 p.m. Luray’s window decorating contest is open for downtown businesses through Thursday, Dec. 2. Winners of three prizes will be announced at the Tree Lighting ceremony the next evening.
• Unanimously approved a Proclamation of Thanksgiving requested by Reverend Sara Galindo to be read at the Nov. 20 Thanksgiving Service at the Luray Christian Church.