Debate around alumni fundraiser, delayed project
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s a controversy sparked by delays and a lack of transparency. We’re talking about a proposed brick display to honor alumni at the new Herschel V. Jenkins High School. The school opened last year.
The Jenkins Alumni Association collected thousands of dollars for the project more than a year ago. But the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System said they collected the money without first getting the district’s approval for the project. Many grads are upset, because they collectively donated tens of thousands of dollars for a project, that might not even happen.
“All we’re asking for is receipts,” said 2001 graduate Elizabeth Mayes-Washington.
“We deserve some answers,” said 2002 graduate ZaDonna Slay.
This group started raising funds more than a year ago, after making an announcement on its Facebook page. The Jenkins High School Alumni Association announced for $25, Jenkins grads could have their names engraved on bricks from the old high school for a commemorative walkway in front of the new one. The group said it collected for 1,546 bricks, or $38,650.
But then, plans changed. The group said the district gave them the wrong kind of bricks, and that it would have to be a brick wall instead. Then came more delays. Mayes-Washington said, as more time passed, they started to wonder if the engraved bricks even existed.
“Now that you have the bricks in your possession, can we see the bricks?,” she said.
We went to see the bricks for ourselves. Alumni Association President Gary Crawford said, the group doesn’t have anything to hide.
“The bricks might have been here maybe about a month, month and a half,” Crawford said.
Crawford said the brick wall - or walls - will be built by the bleachers on Jenkins new practice football field. He said he thinks the project will cost around $35,000.
Crawford showed us the receipts for the brick engravings, and a rendering for the wall. But he refused to give WTOC - or the alums who paid for the engraved bricks - a copy of either. Instead, he said each would have to meet with him individually to see them.
Crawford blames COVID for the project’s delays, and said they are now just waiting for the district’s approval. We wanted to know when the group first contacted the district.
“Around last year, when we collected all the funds for the original walk, that’s when we contacted the district,” Crawford said.
Mayes-Washington calls that unacceptable.
“Why didn’t you get that approved before you took our money?” she asked.
Crawford insists the final product will be well worth the wait. He thinks some younger graduates are just being impatient.
“I just wish people would have a little more patience and go through the process with us... we’ve done all we can do,” Crawford said.
But those younger graduates see it differently.
“I feel the solution going forward is transparency and communication,” Mayes-Washington said.
“We deserve to have these answers as well and be heard,” said Slay.
The Savannah-Chatham school district said they did not get a final design for review for the memorial wall until about a month ago. That’s the first step in the review process. That came more than a year after the group stopped collecting money for the project.
District officials added that it is important for outside groups to get the district’s approval before they begin collecting money for projects on school grounds.
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