Contractor hopes vacant school building can teach students new lessons
When Kenneth Williams takes over the former REAL School building at Chamberlayne and Azalea avenues in Richmond, Va., he won’t be teaching students the typical reading, writing and arithmetic.
Instead, the 68-year-old contractor and owner of Williams Builders Plus will use the vacant building to teach young adults skills in construction. From simple skills needed to fix a broken window to installing toilets and sheetrock, Williams’ Adult Alternative Program teaches basic skills and behavior modification for young adults ages 18 to 25 who are in need.
“Many have been released from jail and prison and are looking to re-enter the labor force,” Williams said. The goal of the program is to help participants achieve Class C contractor certification for a career in the construction industry.
The Richmond School Board approved the award of a four-year lease agreement between Richmond Public Schools and the Adult Alternative Program for rehabilitation of the building at 4929 Chamberlayne Ave.
“The four-year lease agreement will include no rental payment in the first year due to the costs Kenneth will incur to start renovations,” said Thomas Kranz, superintendent of support services for Richmond Public Schools. “Then, he will pay $500 per month for the next three years, at the end of which time we will assess what will happen with the building.”
In 2007, REAL School students were moved from the single-story brick building to Henderson Middle School. RPS retained ownership of the building, which has been vacant since then.
Kranz said leasing the building to Williams is a win for RPS students. The vacant building is costing the city’s school system a couple of thousand dollars a year to maintain security and dispatch personnel to the property to investigate a reported problem or incident, such as a broken window.
“We will save that money, which can go back into our budget for operating costs,” he said. “It’s not a lot of money, but every little bit helps.”
The School Board voted unanimously at its Feb. 6 meeting to move forward on leasing the building.
Williams indicated that he planned to include REAL School students and other RPS students with behavioral and discipline problems in the renovation project.
“Instead of a student with a long suspension sitting around at home, they could come do this, gain some skills,” he said.
Williams said the Richmond Police Department has agreed to provide a grant for the program. Chief Alfred Durham is scheduled to do a walk-through of the building next week to determine the award amount, he said.
Williams also said he is currently in talks with a large home improvement store for a donation of supplies, but sponsorship has not yet been confirmed.
Williams said more than 200 young adults are registered for the program so far, with eight licensed contractors committed to help train participants. Each contractor will work with up to 12 students on specific projects.
The REAL School building renovation is the program’s main project, Williams said. But he has even bigger plans that include teaching students about giving back to the community while creating revenue that will help the program become sustainable. Mr. Williams said he has bids in with the City Attorney’s Office to acquire 32 tax-delinquent houses.
“We can acquire these homes for $1,750 each, and the agreement is that the homes will be sold to low-income families,” he said.
Revenues earned from the real estate sales, he explained, would be reinvested into the program to cover costs and to invest in additional properties.
“Our vision is to purchase more properties and create transitional housing for people newly released from jail, battered women escaping dangerous situations and (facilities for) counseling people recovering from drug addiction.”
Williams said he does not yet have a start date for the school renovation project.
Kranz said the lease agreement is in the works, but could not provide a date when it would be finalized.