BLACKSBURG — The police department will move to a new home this year, an approximately 38,000 square foot facility that is being finished at the Old Town College site in downtown.
And that begs the question: what will become of the current station building at 200 Clay Street?
Blacksburg officials say no plan is set in stone yet, but members of local Girl Scout Troop 397 came up with an idea when they attended a city council meeting last week: a space community art.
“The general consensus is that our community really needs something like the community center we have near the park [on Patrick Henry Drive], which is more for the physical activities,” said co-troop leader Emily Crawford. “Our community needs an artistic counterpart to this.”
The troupe said the idea was further encouraged by a survey that supports the idea.
A document the troupe prepared and presented to council during its recent visit lists a number of local and regional groups that survey respondents believe could benefit from the space. These entities include the Blacksburg Regional Art Association, Renaissance Music Academy, NRV Master Gardeners, New River Blues Society, and Montgomery County Public Schools.
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Respondents said they would use studios, classrooms, galleries, theaters and music spaces the most, according to the survey results. About 36% of respondents said they would “use the space very frequently,” according to the troupe’s document.
They further cited the city’s comprehensive plan, which they said includes the need to continue to seek opportunities to create vibrant civic spaces and support community-building events that “contribute to the social and cultural fabric of Blacksburg.” .
Such space could really benefit a number of groups, Crawford said. For example, she said her daughter is involved with the Blacksburg Children’s Choir, which she added doesn’t really have an ideal performance space.
Locations the choir has used include outdoor spaces and the historic downtown Lyric Theater, Crawford said.
However, “the Lyric is expensive, big and they don’t really fill it up,” Crawford said. “Meanwhile, those involved in the visual arts would like a gallery space more.”
The local troop’s recent work in support of a community art space in Blacksburg is part of the journey, a process members must go through before they finally pursue the Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ highest honor.
When the troupe discussed the need for an arts space, its co-leader, Lisa Sedlak — who previously worked for the city of Blacksburg — thought the Clay Street police station would eventually be vacated, Crawford said.
“The girls were really excited about it,” Crawford said of the idea for the art space and its suggested location.
Last week, the troupe shared a number of quotes and comments received from respondents. The comments, among other things, called for safe places for young people in Blacksburg “to meet and grow”, access to tools such as a potter’s wheel, a place to build theater sets in the same building as the theater and even a place to simply hang pictures.
The troupe also posted responses to a question about the type of community support respondents said they needed. One response was, “I used to take pottery classes at the Y and personally missed that outlet. It would also be great to have a space to explore art without having to have all the materials at home.
The new police station should be ready for occupancy in May, Blacksburg City Attorney Larry Spencer said.
The city has had discussions about what it could do with the existing station building, including considering the idea of an art space for it, but those discussions have been on a “fairly limited basis “, said Spencer.
Any concrete plan for the building would require a detailed process including a likely study, and the city isn’t there yet, Spencer said.
Still, at least some council members are receptive to the idea.
“I think they [the Girl Scout troop] seized on an idea that seems to be having a lot of success in town,” said Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith.
Hager-Smith said she wasn’t sure if the building would be an ideal venue for performances. But it could work well for a number of other arts and cultural pursuits, she said.
“For example, you could teach foreign languages in a place like this,” she said.
Hager-Smith, however, said other ideas for the current station may come up in the future.
The new station — which city officials previously said had a budget of about $16 million — will be part of the redevelopment of the former Blacksburg Middle School site. The new building will be double the size of the current Clay Street facility, which city officials say has long struggled with capacity.