The Carver Center in Culpeper County is an important step closer to getting a new roof and a food processing center for small businesses, thanks to action Thursday afternoon by the U.S. House of Representatives.
House members voted 219-208 to pass Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s proposal to provide $200,000 for Carver’s ongoing development as a rural community education campus. Previously, the historic building near Rapidan was the Piedmont Vocational School and—before that—George Washington Carver Regional High School, the segregation-area school for the region’s African American students.
Spanberger secured the funding as part of a fiscal 2022 appropriations package, wielding her new ability to earmark certain projects under the heading of what’s called Community Project Funding.
Carver’s commercial kitchen will be available for educational uses and small businesses, with the goal of helping sustain small- and medium-sized farms and food businesses. It will enable the Carver Center to continue reducing unemployment and poverty, strengthening the local food system, reducing the loss of farmland, and improving the area’s economy, her office said in a statement.
The Carver Center kitchen could serve Culpeper’s 35 registered food trucks as well as area wineries, breweries and distilleries, plus process locally grown produce and meat, county grants administrator Laura Loveday told the Board of Supervisors this spring.
“The roof’s replacement will further ensure the preservation of this historical institution, which has great significance to hundreds of alumni, their families and the African American communities of Culpeper, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock counties,” said the Rev. Frank D. Lewis Sr., chairman of the George Washington Carver Regional High School Alumni Association Inc.
The association supports making the Carver Center “a vibrant, community-forward facility,” Lewis said.
The regional nonprofit group supports education through its scholarship program, and promotes and preserves history through its 4-County Museum inside The Carver Center. The museum commemorates the impact that Carver had on its four-county region from 1948 to 1968, when it was the only area high school available to African American students.
In recent years, The Carver Center has begun to house vocational training and agricultural education programs and supported both the Virginia Cooperative Extension and a minority-farmers effort that produces hundreds of pounds of produce per year for area food banks.
Eventually, the Culpeper County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension Office plans to move to the Carver Center from downtown.
On behalf of the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, board Chairman Gary Deal expressed his “deepest appreciation” for the appropriation won by Spanberger.
“The Carver Center’s revitalization as a cultural, agricultural and vocational education campus is incredibly important to our community,” Deal said. “Support of this project will improve an iconic community facility and provide educational opportunities for the residents of not only Culpeper County, but the entire region.”
Deal thanked the Alumni Association and its 4-County Museum for working to share The Carver Center’s legacy with people through education and community outreach.
Spanberger said she was encouraged by the House vote and vowed to keep the money moving through the Senate and to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
“The Carver Center is already serving the Culpeper community, supporting education and agriculture, growing hundreds of pounds of food to be donated to the local food bank, as well as educating future generations of the history and inequities of segregation,” the 7th Congressional District lawmaker said. “This project, in developing a regional education campus, stands to benefit local agriculture producers, food banks, businesses and local residents.”
The Democrat expressed pride at having been able to work directly with local leaders in Culpeper County to secure the funding.
“I thank each of these officials for their vision, leadership and commitment to supporting our rural communities,” she said.
The funding is part of the transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations package, which now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
This year, the House changed its appropriations process to allow for specific Community Project Funding requests, such as the Carver Center roof replacement project.
For her proposals in Central Virginia’s 7th District, Spanberger worked with local leaders in the district’s 10 counties to gather community-focused requests.
To be eligible for an earmark, projects must be sponsored by local or state governments or nonprofit groups, demonstrate significant local support and otherwise meet the qualifications to apply for federal grants.
Recently, Spanberger voted—with a bipartisan majority of House members—to pass the INVEST in America Act, which includes more than $22.7 million for Central Virginia transportation and infrastructure projects the congresswoman folded into the legislation.
Locally, that money includes $7 million for intersection safety improvements in Louisa County and $1.15 million to improve the intersection of Courthouse Road and Hood Drive in Spotsylvania County.