By Jesse Wood
Whenever the Woolly Worm Festival rolls around in the fall, returning visitors will see a downtown Banner Elk that has undergone a revitalization and beautification this summer.
Currently, two projects are underway in the downtown area and more possibilities for the historic Banner Elk Elementary School, which the town took over less than two years ago from Avery County, are still being explored.
Demolition of the old Corner Palette at the intersection of Shawneehaw Avenue and Main Street took place in June, and the now-vacant corner parcel is currently a nice green lawn. While the property is going to be a little greenspace park with benches and landscaping with pretty flowers, town staff and council are still pondering the exact details.
“There will be some kind of something else, whether that’s a statue or clock or something. At this moment, we are trying to determine what we are going to have in there,” Lyerly said.
The Town of Banner Elk closed on the property for a total of $310,000 after a donation from Elaine Wold, who tired of seeing the corner building sit vacant for several years. In a release from the town in June, Wold’s vision for the corner project came about during planning meetings with town officials regarding the historic Banner Elk school project.
“She’s been a blessing to us,” Lyerly said.
A few months after the town acquired the old school for $1 million, Mayor Lyerly announced that Wold donated $100,000 to the project. The focus of this gift pertained the beautification and streetscaping happening near the school and Elk statue in downtown right now.
Lyerly said that a circular landscape/streetscape of rock and flowers is being built around the statue and at the sidewalk entrance to the old school property.
“It’s going to be lovely,” Lyerly said.
As for the old school, currently Mayland Community College is leasing three of the classes near the back of the school, and the Book Exchange is operating out of the old school, too.
“They are both very happy in there and for the rest of it, we are working on grants to try to renovate the rest of the building, so it can be occupied,” Lyerly said, adding that floors need to be refinished and bathrooms updated.
In the past, there’s been talk about preserving the historic school, which was built in 1939 and occupied by elementary students until 2011, by the Works Progress Administration, for a variety of communal uses such as a business incubator–like shopping mall, educational offerings, space for highlighting mountain arts and crafts and seasonal festivals and more.
The town formed two Historic Banner Elk School committees for fundraising and property uses after purchasing the property through a 12-year, interest free loan with Avery County that also includes an agreement for the town to fund water usage at the current Banner Elk Elementary School through the life of the loan.
A number of naming rights donations were set, and the Team of 83 was established. The Team of 83 is a group of individuals, businesses, clubs, churches and organization that want to support the restoration of the old school for the good of the community.
The “83” number derives from the fact that the interest-free, 12-year loan amounts to $83,333 per year in payments, and the fundraising committee hopes to have 83 individuals willing to pledge $1,000 per year.
If you are interested in joining the “Team of 83” or if you have questions, please contact Allen Bolick, 828-898-1934, Donna Dicks, 828-898-6667 or Rick Owen, Banner Elk Town Manager, 828-898-5398.
In addition to pledging to join the “Team of 83”, the Town of Banner Elk is accepting donations of any amount. All donations will be gratefully received and are tax deductible; for your convenience, please find a pledge card at this LINK.
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