Executive director of Folkmoot USA, Babcock wandered the old building during a recent open house. She strolls the structure, pointing our interesting details and tells stories about the history of the building, all the while having the same thing reciprocated to her from community residents and the curious alike, many of which were former students at the school.
“We’re showing this facility to the public and there are people coming in who remember going to school, and they’re showing us things,” Babcock said. “The oldest part of this school was built in 1923 — everyone has a memory who went to school here, thousands of children.”
After 12 years inhabiting the former school, and five years of pursuing ownership of the school, Folkmoot USA was recently given the deed to the property. The Haywood County School Board handed the deed to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners, who then approved to transition the deed to the festival. It was not only a milestone achievement for Folkmoot, but also for the cultural preservation and perpetuation the event brings and instills in Western North Carolina.
“People don’t want to see this building be demolished, and they don’t want Folkmoot to fail,” Babcock said. “The community wants us to succeed, to reinvigorate the building and to reinvent ourselves.”
Appraised at $1.3 million, the school acquisition is a huge leap forward in Folkmoot’s “Capital Campaign.” With a target of $2 million, the campaign is well on its way to achieving its goal of being able to provide cultural programs, workshops, classes and performances year-round for Haywood County and beyond.
“It’s about bringing this building back and making it useful to the community again,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, a former student at Hazelwood. “It can become a community center, it can be the focal point for any number of organizations and events. It’s in nonprofit hands now, and the thing about that is that it has to be profitable in some form in the long run, and that’s going to make this community better because it’s a community effort.”
With the building now under its control, Folkmoot leaders are well aware of the extensive repairs and maintenance that will need to happen as the years roll along. The roof is currently being worked on, with plans in store for plumbing and structural upgrades. Volunteers are also needed to pitch in and renovate the international hub of their community.
“The basic structure is good, and the possibilities are endless, but we need help,” said David Stallings, a member-at-large on the Folkmoot executive committee. “We’ve exposed the people of this area to over 100 different cultures right in their own backyard — that’s something unique and special.”
And for community members, seeing the building have new, vibrant life breathed into it is an encouraging and proud sight.
“This is where I went to school. This building is extremely important to those of use who grew up here. Thousands of us in this community have connections to this building,” said Mary Ann Enloe, a former student and former mayor of Hazelwood. “This is an excellent opportunity for Folkmoot to really use this historic facility and put it to good use for all of our communities.”
With the first open house a success, Babcock is planning to hold a series of them, along with an array of focus groups, over the course of the next year.
“This facility is far too big and generous for just the Folkmoot festival,” she said. “We recognize that right off the bat, and this building is really more for the community, as Folkmoot is for the community, too.”
By the numbers
Amid the fundraising efforts and goals for Folkmoot USA, the key areas of activity for the “Capital Campaign” include:
• Taking ownership of the Historic Hazelwood School — $1,336,000. The school was recently donated by Haywood County to Folkmoot USA.
• Revitalizing the Historic Hazelwood School — $375,000. Projects include repairing the roof, renovating the auditorium and gymnasium, and replacing the infrastructure (plumbing/electrical).
• Planning the future of the Historic Hazelwood School/Folkmoot Community Center — $25,000. The planning process will allow Folkmoot USA to design and push forward the efforts from 2015 to 2020.
• Boosting annual programs — $125,000. Year-round free cultural programming for children, families, community residents and visitors alike.
• Growing endowment — $114,000. The fund is used to maintain the robust and diverse programming of Folkmoot USA.
• Supporting the campaign — $25,000. A high-quality team that orchestrates the overall campaign and related activities.