Take The Initiative

And so he and a number of volunteers did just that. In fact, all of the plastering, painting and wood-refinishing work, as well as the building of shelves, removing blackboards and refinishing the exposed brick and a hundred other things, were all done by volunteer labor over two years.

Free Money

The renovation work was a critical first step in taking advantage of a series of funding opportunities that became available in 2004 and 2005.

The BOPARC seniors–housed in another abandoned school across town–were notified that their building would be sold. BOPARC members were prepared to designate the school in Wiles Hill Park as the seniors’ next home.

After the 2000 census, Morgantown was designated a Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2004, which entitled the town to an annual federal grant of $600,000 through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for use as a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Of the first HUD allocation, $250,000 was designated–over a five-year period–for a new HVAC system in the school. Subsequent CDBG grants put a new floor in the gymnasium and all new thermopane windows in the building. Including the initial HVAC investment, the CDBG allocations reached $330,000.

In 2005, the city council agreed–upon the recommendation of the city manager–to a dollar-for-dollar match of the funds the Wiles Hill Neighborhood Association had raised for the addition of a new handicapped entrance and lobby. Alumni donated $30,000; the two state senators secured grants of $20,000; the Naillor Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant; and the BOPARC seniors themselves contributed more than $100,000. With the city match, there were sufficient funds to give the architectural consultant the go-ahead on a final design as well as to pay for the construction.

In September 2007, the seniors moved into their new digs. Among the various programs and activities available to them are:

• Defensive-driving classes for insurance discounts (AARP-sponsored)

• Income-tax-preparation assistance (AARP-sponsored)

• Watercolor and acrylic classes, beginner and advanced

• Billiards and billiards classes

• Off-site bowling

• Line dancing

• Low-impact aerobics

• Wii games

• Monthly ballroom-dancing lessons

• Weekly square-dancing

• Senior Sophisticates dance troupe (entertaining at events at the senior center, in nursing homes, schools and similar venues)

• Kitchenaire Band (entertaining at venues similar to those of the Senior Sophisticates)

• Helping Hands (volunteer craft group offering community projects to those in need)

• Basketball

• Red Hat Mommas (a social group, meeting monthly at an area restaurant for socializing)

• Wine Tasting

• Weekly Wednesday lunch

• Out-of-town trips (Ireland, Mackinac Island, Mich., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Hawaiian cruise, Nashville, Tenn.); monthly trips to Meadows Casino, Penn.

What’s the moral of this story? Opportunity visits those who help themselves.

The early activities at the old school clearly showed that community members had taken their own initiative, and were well on their way to reclaiming the school when the grants became available. Similar funding opportunities are available in communities across the country.

More often than not, they will be awarded to those who invest the effort, time and limited resources to make the potential of an old building visible to the naked eye of the administrator, the maintenance man, the donor and the community at large.

Follow a photo documentary of the remodeling work room by room at www.wileshillschool.org (see “Renovation Photos” under “Photo Gallery” on the home page).

Frank Scafella served on Morgantown’s city council as well as mayor before joining the Board of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached via e-mail at fas4@labs.net.

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