City Council votes to sell Hayden School

Published 7:59 am Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to sell the vacant, deteriorating Hayden School to a group that plans to renovate the building and convert it to senior housing and a community center.

The council’s vote to sell the building to a group headed by Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia followed a public hearing in which citizens overwhelmingly supported the plan. Only political activist Thomas Councill spoke against it, saying the city should honor earlier intentions to utilize the property for parks and recreation.

The council’s vote coincidentally followed a weekend reunion of Hayden High School graduates, several of whom spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about the need to preserve the historic structure, which served African-American students before integration.

“Something needs to be done with that school, and it needed to be done yesterday,” said Cynthia Barrett Walloe, a resident of West Second Street. “My personal opinion is that we should move forward with this project. Otherwise, in the next five years a bulldozer will be coming in there, maybe even in the next year, and all we will have is a memory.”

Under terms of the contract approved Tuesday, the buyers will pay $400,000 for the building and six acres of land. The city will pay to mitigate any environmental problems with the property, up to the amount of the purchase price.

The Della I. Hayden Mixed Use Community Center would include apartments for senior citizens, an adult day-care center, a Head Start center, a commercial kitchen, Senior Services offices, medical support offices and a heritage museum.

“It excites me to know that you are thinking of the seniors and you are thinking of the youth,” said Chiquita Purvis Williams, a Franklin native and San Diego resident who visited for this weekend’s 40-year reunion of Hayden graduates. “If there is someone with an opportunity and a vision, we have to catch on to the vision.”

John N. Skirven, chief executive officer of Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, gave an overview of the project and affirmed his group’s commitment to involving children in the facility.

“It’s honoring Della Hayden’s legacy to have the Head Start program there,” he said, noting plans to bring seniors and children together for 45 minutes a day.

City Attorney Taylor William said rezoning, or conditional-use permits, will be required to accommodate certain aspects of the project, including adult day care.

In a separate public hearing Tuesday, no citizen spoke about the city’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget. The budget, which would keep property taxes and spending at this year’s levels, will be presented for a formal vote at the council’s next meeting on Monday, June 8.