The Blacksburg Chinese School, a nonprofit organization that strives to promote cultural awareness and diversity in the town, is pitching an idea for a new cultural center space in Blacksburg. The school is hoping to build a new facility downtown that will be maintained by the community.
The organization currently meets in a rented-out building on South Main Street, where Sofia Midkiff, the Blacksburg Chinese School outreach coordinator, said the landlord has been generous. However, the space is becoming overcrowded as the organization begins to grow, and their second space in the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library is also too small.
“We get a good deal,” Midkiff said. “But the problem is, how long can the landlord be generous?”
Midkiff’s idea is to build an entirely new multipurpose facility that acts as a community engagement center, preferably where Blacksburg’s old high school or middle school used to be. However, the old middle school's land is privately-owned.
The Town of Blacksburg recently bought the old Blacksburg high school site for a possible park space or recreation center.
Moreover, Midkiff wants this facility to include more than just the Blacksburg Chinese School. She wanted to include other cultural organizations as well as offer other community places such as a Lego room for kids, a space for the YMCA at Virginia Tech and another library owned by the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library. She imagined having a dance room that is not limited to the Blacksburg Chinese School and a community-run coffee shop, where customers pay what they can give.
“All of these rooms, they would be very low cost, or maybe even free,” Midkiff said. “Maybe $3 a month as membership –– just a symbolic way people pay so that they don't abuse the place.”
This building would solely be funded by all of the organizations that actively use it as well as community members who come by. With the campaigning she has been doing, Midkiff has found some support.
“A regional arts and cultural center would be a great addition to the area, especially given the feedback we’ve received from the arts community,” said Ryan Martin, executive director of YMCA at Virginia Tech. “The Y would like to be a strong partner in the development of such a project, helping to provide support and leadership to it.”
Martin said some factors that the organization is taking into account include space allocation and funding mechanisms for the space and center.
“The Y is very interested in collaborating with quite a few organizations, including the Town of Blacksburg –– should they be interested –– to help see this project become a reality and operate sustainably,” Martin said. “We believe the entire community, artists and citizens alike would benefit from a regional arts and cultural center.”
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith has spoken with the Blacksburg Chinese School and said there is a possibility for the organization to have a space in the potential recreation center at the old high school site. In terms of building a new facility for a cultural center, Hager-Smith said the council has numerous other plans for their budget.
“We've had a couple of conversations (with Midkiff), probably three about it, and this is something they're very passionate about,” Hager-Smith said. “But I don't think I have anything to say about that directly. Effectively, something like this has been tried in about three different ways, and I’m inviting you ... to consider it from a wider standpoint.”
In general, Hager-Smith said the cultural center is not on the council’s plate.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea,” Hager-Smith said. “It's a lovely idea –– if I could wave a wand and make everything that I wanted to see happen, I would put more roads in and I would give real attention to finding a place for a cultural center. But, it's just not realistic.”
Nevertheless, Midkiff remained hopeful.
“It's a big benefit for not just a family, but even for single people, senior people, all kinds of different demographics,” Midkiff said. “It will be a place that brings everybody together.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said the Town of Blacksburg owned the old Blacksburg middle school site. This was incorrect. The old middle school site is privately owned, and the Town of Blacksburg only owns two parking lots on Clay Street and Eheart Street. Montgomery County sold the back of the property to Midtown Redevelopment Partners LLC on Oct. 28, 2016 and the front on Dec. 7, 2017.