POWHATAN – Powhatan County Public Schools didn’t waste any time after finishing the newly renovated Pocahontas Landmark Center to start making the transition into the building.
From May to early October, the former Pocahontas Middle School was repurposed and updated from a school to working office and community space, said Dr. Jason Tibbs, director of facilities. After finishing the major construction work the week before, moving began last week to bring PCPS administrators and instructors who were spread out on different buildings and campuses under one roof.
During the Powhatan County School Board’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8, the members voted unanimously to approve the building’s name change, wanting to move forward on a moniker that would both honor the school’s history and incorporate the various entities that will be housed there in the future, including the county’s parks and recreation department, the Christmas Mother program’s headquarters, and other potential tenants.
The renovation work Tibbs emphasized during a tour on Monday, Oct. 14 focused on the portion of the building that will be used by the school administration. Other sections of the school will either be reorganized by the entities using them or remain untouched for the time being.
A good portion of the space the school administration will use is the part of the building built in the 1930s to teach the county’s older black students. One of the highlights Tibbs pointed out was the new auditorium, which was a library when the middle school closed.
The space will house school board meetings, training classes, and other community functions but will likely not be in use until January 2020, he said. The room was outfitted with tables and chairs to meet the needs of a variety of functions.
“We mirrored it very similar to what is in the Village Building within the courthouse so we could have very much the capability they have in that building in here,” he said.
Dr. Lynn Clayton-Prince, who served as the middle school principal for several years, said it was hard seeing the school close, although she is glad it didn’t sit empty for too long. She appreciated the transformation of the building from school to office space but also the nods to its history. For instance, the library’s transition into an auditorium actually represents it coming full circle, since that was the original purpose of the space.
“Seeing former people who were students here and hearing them tell me what it used to be when they used to be here in the 50s and 60s, it is magical to see their expressions and how they light up when they see what it currently is. If they haven’t been able to see it over the last four years, I would be happy to see them come back. This is the 50th year of its closing in 1969, so it would be nice for them to come and see what it currently is,” she said, referencing the desegregation of Powhatan’s public schools.
Fresh paint, carpet, and tile could be found throughout most of the renovated space, with the features of the building offset by multi-tone carpet and accent walls, Tibbs said. New white, gray and orange tiles were laid down in some of the hallways.
Because the building was a school, the question from the beginning was how best to use the large classroom spaces, Tibbs said. Staff went the route of large partitioned walls that divide the rooms for use by multiple people without closing them off, which would have been too cost prohibitive.
“Because the HVAC systems are designed the way they are and we only have predominantly in each classroom space one unit, which is a floor unit, we could not build the walls from floor to ceiling. We had to leave a little space above them to allow for ventilation and air to go over the walls,” he said.
The former middle school front office did not need to undergo much change, except new paint, ceiling tiles, carpet, and lighting, which was part of the TRANE energy performance contracting update, Tibbs said. The former counselor’s office will now house the human resources department and the former clinic has been transformed into a break room for staff. The classrooms that used to house the music department will now have the division testing administrator, additional offices, technology training, and a conference room.
The former art room will house the instructional specialists’ office, again using partitions to break up the large room, Tibbs said.
“Their offices are in a trailer behind Powhatan Elementary, so part of what we wanted to do with utilizing this space was bring everybody in under one roof. Because we were utilizing office spaces in buildings that could be used by other individuals, and we were also utilizing trailers behind some of the schools,” he said.
On the exterior, staff trimmed some shrubbery and replaced others and power washed the building, Tibbs said.
The school district moved into the building all last week in waves, using internal resources and doing a different section each day, Tibbs said. Once the move in is complete, he will be focused on cleaning out the school administration’s old office on Skaggs Road so it can be taken over by the county.
“I have loved doing this project; this has been a great project to work on,” Tibbs said. “This building was my middle school years ago … so renovating and reusing the building is something that I am pleased to do and I enjoyed doing it.
“You drive up and down highways all the time and see buildings that are dilapidated, the windows are busted out and things of that nature. I am just thankful that the county, the board of supervisors, the county administrator, and Dr. (Eric) Jones and the school board came to an agreement for us to do this, because I think it is a great use of the space, it is a great location,” he said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.