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If these halls could talk

Hopefully by the time you've reached this page, you are already familiar with what Spencer-Penn is, and hopefully you're interested in our beautiful space and all the history that's here. Our goal here is to give you some background information on how we've gotten here. It's taken a lot to get us to this point, and you probably wouldn't notice a lot of what's been done at first glance. If you are interested, we hope you'll continue to come back to our blog and continue to learn more. Along with our "If These Halls Could Talk" features, we will also be sharing other fun news and facts here...maybe even a few videos! If there's something specific you'd like to learn pertaining to our history, feel free to e-mail us and let us know. Until then, thanks for joining us as we let the tradition continue!

Our Introduction to the Harvest Foundation – 2006

Our Introduction to the Harvest Foundation It was the winter of 2006; we needed to renovate the lower level in order to bring in rentals. We needed money in order to renovate in order to bring in rentals. We needed a $200,000 plan in order to bring in money in order to renovate in order to bring in rentals. Clearly, we were facing a seemingly insurmountable chain of one-thing-must-lead-to-another. Ideas to bring in money were just basically pennies and dimes compared to the money we needed. At every meeting, members suggested, "Get a grant. That's easy money!" But realistically, why would any funder take a chance - a big chance - on an organization less than two years old, with no history (but with no debt), with the goal of renovating an old school? (How many failed projects like that had they seen?) Meanwhile, the Harvest Foundation, which had been created in 2002 from the sale of Memorial Hospital, with the mission of researching and responsibly investing in programs and initiatives to address local challenges in health, education, and community vitality, seemed like a possibility. So, here we go! President Harry Cerino and Allyson Rothrock agreed to meet with out rag-tag group's reps: Shirley Flippen (who was the expert in writing grants) and Mary (who had no experience whatsoever, but would defend Shirley if she were kicked out.) Mr. Cerino and Ms. Rothrock were very polite, but it was clear that they did not share our enthusiasm about renovating an old building, especially a 39,000 square foot old school, into what? A community center? It has been tried and 99.9% of those have failed. And we need how much? A half million dollars? (Can you hear the laughter?) But - Mr. Cerino assigned Allyson the task of visiting Spencer-Penn and off she went to Spencer - on the coldest day of winter - with no heat in the upper wing. (We had a coal furnace, and no one wanted the job of starting a fire, and we didn't want to burn oil at $1.65 per gallon.) Mary: "Harvest was coming to take a tour and physically "see" what Shirley and I had tried to explain. The building was cold but I had on multiple layers including my good old thermal underwear! I looked like a "bag lady" but was fairly comfortable working. Allyson arrived looking like Barbie with her long coat, cashmere scarf and her leather gloves. (I remember she kept pulling on her gloves...) I have Allyson the tour. At first she was skeptical (hey, I would be also!), but she kept asking questions. One question I will always remember, "If Harvest doesn't give you a grant, how will you accomplish your goal?" I replied, "We will sell more hotdogs!" Since then, the group has always referred to a cost of a project by the number of hotdogs: The new carpet is going to cost 834 hotdogs!" Allyson: "Mary Jordan was the first potential grantee Harry and I met with once the Foundation was in operation. She came to our meeting armed with a laundry list of needs, and an energy and exuberance that lit up the room the second she appeared in our doorway. Her list of needs included everything from a new parking lot, to HVAC, to the kitchen sink (literally!), all for a huge old school building that Harry and I had never seen, in a community we barely knew. At the end of a long and intriguing meeting, Harry told Mary and Shirley that I would work with them to figure out potential next steps but that the full $2M they were requesting was not an option. As it happened, my first visit to Spencer-Penn was on an extremely cold and dreary day in the beginning of January. There was no electricity, which also meant no heat, and all I could see was a dark empty building. But there stood the invincible Mary Jordan, filled with even more energy than she had at our meeting. She talked a mile a minute about all of their well thought out ideas to transform this old school into a lively hub for programs and community gatherings, a place that would be both a physical and metaphorical pillar for the Spencer-Penn community. Several months later, during one of what would become many visits to Spencer-Penn that year, I showed up and there, hard at work, were no less than 25 volunteers, or what Mary referred to as her "Jacklegs." They were painting, doing plumbing, refinishing floors, repairing ceilings, all the while talking about the grand vision they collectively had for a community theatre, a music venue, a community kitchen, technology classes, dance classes and the like. With the number of volunteers increasing with each visit I made, and the clear, realistic plans Mary had developed for making their vision a reality, Harry and I and the Harvest Board determined it was a prudent time to make an investment in the amount of $137,000, which, thanks to the hard work, steadfast commitment, and vision of Mary and her crew, has since been leveraged into hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization, and for the community as a whole." Our heartfelt gratitude to the Harvest Foundation and the two visionary and trusting souls who believed in us there! We couldn't have done it without you!

The beginning – 2004

In July 2004, a group of interested Spencer residents, former students and former teachers began meeting each week for the next three months. Such dedication and love for an old building could only bring success, but we had to obtain the building first. We didn't go into this endeavor blindly, just innocently. We studied the good and bad attributes of the building, such as a fairly new roof and huge gas tank in the ground. We brainstormed what the building could become to help the community. The Spencer community had basically centered around the school for so long. No one could think of a time without the brick building located at 475 Spencer Penn Road. We had to also think of a plan to convince the Board of Supervisors to give us the property. Previously, several schools that had been closed and sold became eye sores to the community. The Supervisors were going to be a tough nut to crack. It was going to take convincing them that an inexperienced group wearing rose-colored glasses could take a 39,000 square foot building and make it a success. A business plan, which contained our vision of the building and ways to make it sustainable, was crudely composed. We also circulated petitions which people signed in support. Former students who lived miles and miles away offered their support. At the board meeting, we had people who spoke on our behalf. We worked with Benny Summerlin (County Administrator) and David Davis (Board Chairman) on plans regarding the use of the ball field. We wanted children to still play ball there so we agreed for the Parks and Rec Department to lease the field for twenty years for twenty dollars. Everything was looking good, but we had to decide what to pay for the property. Yes, we had to pay! We offered $15,000, which people say was a bargain. Maybe it was, but when you don't have a nickel, $15,000 is a huge commitment. We received the deed to the property in November of 2004. To pay the County and to get us through the first year, we borrowed $20,000. With hard work and generous donations, we were able to be debt free in one year and have not borrowed money since. Also between July and December of 2004, the group was busy with organizational business: the board was elected, by-laws were written, incorporation application and 501c3 status were filed. We also had other applications filed with the government and many inspections, along with starting work on the application for the Historic Register! After we received the deed, we had to get insurance and hook up the electricity. Busy, but BUSY really started in January 2005.

Our first year: Part1 – 2005

Starting our first fiscal year in January of 2005, the Spencer-Penn School Preservation Organization (SPSPO) had its officers in place: Mary Jordan, President; David Draper, Vice President; Lillian Holland, Secretary; and Bobby Dalton, Treasurer. A Board of Directors had also been elected: J.E. Pigg, Pasty Quesenberry and Carl DeHart. Committees were formed, and work began on basic infrastructural matters like heating-the two older wings of the Spencer-Penn School still used coal heat, while the lower wing used oil. The Renovations Committee considered whether we should employ a project adviser. A group from the SPSPO had toured Montpelier, James Madison's estate near Richmond, and the project advisor there offered to take on our project, but could we afford him? Work continued to make the deadline to have the Spencer-Penn Centre placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register, the first step toward obtaining a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and Miek Pulice in Roanoke became one of our first angels, essentially writing the application. The Fundraising Committee investigated holding antique consignment auctions and an antique fair open to vendors; they also worked on sales-tax exempt and 501(c)(3) status. We also planned a book drive to get the community library going. There were meetings, lots of meetings, not only with the SPSPO membership, but with area nonprofits and county officials, as well as telephone calls to state and federal offices to learn how to get this baby growing!

Our first year: Part2 – 2005

The Jacklegs were meeting twice a week in the winter of 2005, removing walls, dropped ceilings and the "stage" enclosure. The stage was enclosed in the early 60's for the Principal's Office, which also included a restroom, book room, closets, and of course a large open area for the secretary, copy machine and teacher's mailboxes, etc. The Jacklegs also cut a double door in the wall between the stage and the classroom to allow actors to come on stage. A platform in this classroom (called the Green Room), was also made to house the piano which one day we hoped we would have. Our wish did come true, but that is another story that will be told later! The winter was cold with no heat in the building. The 1927 and 1948 wings were heated by coal throughout its history. No one ever volunteered to get a fire going in the coal furnace, therefore everyone just added layers of clothing while we worked. After we tore down all that we needed and cleaned up all the debris in the oldest wing, work was moved to the 1960 wing. This wing required less money to get it up and usable. We needed usable spaces where we could begin fundraising. Our first huge fundraiser was an Antique Fair held in May 2005. Debbie Hensley was our chair and she became another Spencer-Penn angel! We attracted dealers from Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina and local dealers. Ken Farmer, a Radford, Virginia appraiser, came and was presented with items of various sizes, shapes, and values. Huge success! (We repeated this event again in 2006, but the higher gas prices kept our customers away.) Room 10, also known as one of the former kindergarten classrooms, was to become the community library. This room was a challenge because it was the first one to be completely renovated, making it a learning experience. Choosing the type of heat, what to do with the window blinds, floor covering, shelves for the books, color scheme, and the list went on and on. The original library shelves that were saved were installed and additional shelves were built where needed. The radiators were removed and a new HVAC system was installed. The window blinds that were bought for the old school in the 90's were still in good shape, but they were green! Shannon Gilbert, a local professional painter, quoted us a very good price to spray paint the blinds, thus saving us a huge amount. Shelf units were painted, walls painted, carpet installed, blinds hung, and books were ready to go on the shelves. While the Jacklegs were renovating the room, work began collecting books for our community library. Shirley Holland, Ann Chaney and other volunteers worked tirelessly throughout the spring, summer and fall, collecting, cleaning and cataloging books. We needed a computer system for the books and another angel walked through the door. Rose Hylton and her family donated money for the privilege of naming the room. The Charles and Rose Hylton Library would soon be in business! The hall, the multipurpose room, and one classroom temporarily called the Red Room since it was painted red, had all been painted and as clean as we could get them. The floors were still the same tile floors, but we couldn't manage that project...yet! Three remaining classrooms on the lower wing had not been painted...yet! One year since we received the deed, Spencer-Penn Centre was ready to celebrate "her" first birthday. on November 10, we were going to have a party! The lower hall which is the 1960's wing was dedicated. The Charles and Rose Hylton Library was dedicated. Mike Pulice from the Roanoke Office of the Virginia Historical Resources presented the plaque for the distinction of being on the Virginia Landmarks of Historic Places and also on the National Register of Historic Places. Former student, Robert Flwoers, displayed his paintings and prints. Former students and local authors Paul Jones and Darryl Holland were on hand to sell their more recent books. Virginia Rodgers was in charge of refreshments. What a wonderful day with lots of friends of Spencer-Penn.

It’s all coming together, kind of – 2006

January, 2006, we started our second year with the building and had lots and lots to do, not only with renovation, but also with fundraising. Fundraising in 2005 was mostly donations, one Antique Fair, and one Sweet Gospel Music and Desserts concert. We had to get the lower level ready to rent. The lower level was presentable, but not beautiful. Alumni hall and its restrooms, the lower hall, one classroom and the library had been painted. All floors needed to be replaced due to asbestos tile. We couldn't afford new tile so we just scrubbed and waxed what was there. The lower level was halfway functional depending on weather conditions. The entire space was heated by the oil boiler, which was practically new when the school closed, but oil had taken its first serious climb in price and the building was prone to cold wind coming through the cracks along the windows and doors. Energy efficiency was not considered when the older schools were built. All toilets in the building were short, just the right height for small children. All were functional, but maybe not so comfortable for adults. These would definitely need replacing. The three level building was not functional for handicapped accessibility. Trying to achieve that goal was a top priority. Bobby Nance went to work building a ramp in the Alumni Hall foyer to make the Lower Hall accessible. Other Jacklegs (Jack Turner, Jimmy Evans, John Rodgers, and Rabbit Jordan) built ramps coming into the exterior doors. A much longer and complicated ramp going into the upper level was later constructed by Bobby and Butch Dillinger. The Organization known as SPSPO or the Spencer-Penn School Preservation Organization, met monthly with the Board meeting weekly and bi-weekly. Each meeting we brainstormed on how we could raise money. In 2006, we decided to host another Antique Fair, to start a monthly Bluegrass Music night, to sell Spencer-Penn magnets and ornaments, to host a consignment auction, to have a yard sale, and let's not forget GRANTS (which everyone thinks is free money and so easy to get)! Hang tight to your shirts because next time I will tell how we barged into the Harvest Foundation office...looking back, this was very embarrassing!!!
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