Old Prices Fork School project still years from completion

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A project changing an old school in Blacksburg into a new housing development may be a long way off from completion.

The Old Prices Fork School will be converted to 16 apartments with 10 affordable and six market-rate units for people 55 and older will be constructed, converting the former classrooms to apartments.

The Prices Fork School Community Revitalization Project recently received a $2.5 million grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development's (VDHCD) Vibrant Communities Initiative and a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“We have applied for some smaller grants from the USDA that we’re hoping will help round out the various components that we have,” Taylor Hollow Construction Owner Joe Fortier said.

Those components include everything beyond the housing that will be created.

Fortier explained, “The commercial space will have the incubator kitchen, it will have the farm-to-table restaurant, it will have a local brewery, and an area for local small food-based businesses to get started.”

He said there isn’t a space like this anywhere around the community, but it’s just what is needed.

“The community has strong agricultural roots and in the work that we’ve done in the livability initiative, which basically looked at how to make Montgomery County just a better place to live, this type of project was very much called for.”

And it’s what the community wants, as well.

“We have had more support for this project than we have any other historical renovation that we’ve done,” Fortier said. “The agricultural community is on board, the housing community is on board, the aging community is on board, it does so many things and it’s so well located that I think that this could be a game changer.”

The plan is to change the old school building into apartments and commercial space, including a food center with incubator kitchen, farm-to-table restaurant, and brewery.

But first, workers need to repair, remove, or replace old utility items.

Fortier described the process saying, “We’re in the process of taking out all the old, antiquated systems in the building and making it so that we can upgrade them and make the apartments nice. Right now they’re actually removing the old single pane, inefficient glass, they’re sandblasting the windows, and we’re going to replace it with new, high efficient glass. We’ll be working on that for the next year.

“During that time, there’s a lot of planning to be done, there’s a lot of logistics, there’s a lot of kitchen design, there’s a lot of making sure that we have it designed right so that the community can benefit with the elements.

“During the next year, I see that as we go forward with the apartments, in the back they're working on plans, designs, lining up potential tenants, all of the nuts and bolts that feed into the concept that we were successful in getting the grant for.”

Fortier said construction should begin in 2017 and the public should be seeing significant changes by the start of 2018.

“It takes a tremendous amount of work to take a school that has been sitting vacant for 5 years that has systems that were built in 1954 and 1964 and converting it into a clean, well-lighted space that people can live in and be happy in,” he said. “People don’t realize that we are going to take a full six months just removing what is in there and just adding new systems, new plumbing, new electric, new H-VAC system, all have to be redone.

“So yes the building is here, but it actually takes longer to do a historical renovation of a building that is a central part of the community where you want to maintain the fabric of the building and the character of it, than it does to build a new building.”

Montgomery County agreed to sell the 8.3 acres site at 4237 Prices Fork Road for $850,000 to Taylor Hollow Construction LLC in 2013.

The revitalization project has generated unprecedented collaboration among 21 non-profits, organizations, businesses and local governments that have lent their support to the effort and pledged their time and resources.

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