Our View — 14 March 2013
Editorial: Saving the Carver Nursery School the right way

Should the former Carver Nursery School be preserved for posterity? Residents with longstanding ties to the traditionally black Parker-Gray neighborhood certainly think so, and they have — finally — started taking steps in the right direction.

We remain unconvinced that the tired-looking building on the 200 block of N. Fayette St. represents a historic landmark, which is why we came out strongly against calls for the city to buy the property. But we have no quarrel with residents who disagree and are willing to dig in and find a solution.

To recap: Developer William Cromley bought the property several years ago with plans to replace the former nursery school, which later became an American Legion post, with condominiums. Residents sued to give the building a stay of execution, and for more than two years, they have waited for a deep-pocketed preservationist to swoop in and save the property from redevelopment.

But the February 25 deadline came and passed without a savior. Though Cromley can — once again — do as he pleases with the land, he has graciously given residents who oppose its demolition a chance to get organized so they can figure out a way to buy the parcel.

Though more than a little late, these grassroots preservationists — including Ferdinand Day, one of Alexandria’s celebrated civil rights leaders, and his daughter, Gwendolyn Day-Fuller — have given residents an outstanding example of how to make a difference without drawing on city coffers.

After city officials rightly rebuked attempts at a publicly funded solution, these folks banded together and have formed the beginnings of an organization dedicated to saving the building. They have reached out to other local preservationist groups, held talks with Cromley, put together a fundraising action plan and successfully lobbied city council to back — though not financially — their efforts.

In recent years we have seen residents call on City Hall to invest potentially millions of dollars into their pet projects. There’s no harm in asking, but we’ve also seen outrage after officials returned with a firm but polite, “No, we just can’t afford it.” It’s easy to scapegoat the city for sacrificing Alexandria’s past — but it’s far harder to find the resolve to craft a creative, independent solution.

The efforts to save the former Carver Nursery School are nascent, and there’s no guarantee the residents will get the outcome they so desperately seek. But they — and Cromley — have shown us that it’s possible to fight for what you think is right. Without drawing on taxpayer dollars or castigating city officials, that is.

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