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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

William King Building Project Redirected


*** Published April 2 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

ABINGDON, Va. The board of directors for the William King Museum is scrapping 5-year-old plans to build new artisan studios in favor of renovating an existing building for the same purpose, museum Executive Director Marcy Miller said Thursday.

The targeted building is the one currently housing Washington County's administrative offices, which sits right behind William King and already is owned by the museum.

County officials, who have occupied the building for decades under a long-term lease agreement, recently approved the purchase of the current Alpha Natural Resources building near Exit 14 for new county office space.

"I am pleased William King will be able to use this building to accommodate their growing operations," County Administrator Mark Reeter said.

Miller said the museum will move ahead with its plan to landscape the grounds and widen the entrance road to the museum, opening up the hill where it sits the highest point in town to provide easier access from Main Street. She's hopeful that a portion of the project will be completed this year.

Abingdon Mayor Ed Morgan said the museum board's decision won't affect the town's plans to help with the road piece of the project, and he looks forward to seeing the museum sculpture garden become more accessible.

"I think you could say what they're proposing to do would make good practical sense in these current economic times," Morgan said of the building decision. The board voted on the new plan Saturday.

In addition to the space coming available, Miller said, the museum board's decision was affected by two important factors: Construction costs have increased substantially during five years of project delay, and a recent appraisal set the value of the planned new buildings lower than the cost of construction.

Miller, who as a background in fundraising, took over as the new director of the financially strapped museum just a month ago, from the Baltimore, Md., area.

Also Thursday, the American Chestnut Foundation held a planting ceremony on the William King grounds for two blight-resistant American chestnut trees, some of the first such trees planted in the community after 27 years of work to develop them.

American chestnut trees dominated the forests of Appalachia before a blight wiped them out in the early 20th century.

Meghan Jordan, spokeswoman for the Asheville, N.C.-based foundation, said the organization has spent some $19 million over the decades to develop blight-resistant trees. The foundation's primary research farm is in Washington County, Va.

"We hope that there'll be a huge, straight, tall tree with no branches for 50 feet," Jordan said when asked what she hopes to see 50 years from now on the hillside below William King. "And we'd love to see the hillside with the chestnut trees looking like a snow-covered Fourth of July with the big blooms."

Miller said she's glad to be involved in establishing the chestnut in its native range while also working to beautify the museum campus.

"I envision a place where people will look up and want to come up here and see them up close and collect nuts," she said. "I'm hopeful it [the planting] will be a start toward building a centerpiece of this community."