Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Old Virgil Powers school could become ‘One Safe Place’ 

The new Family Justice Center has a contract on the UDA property at Second and Hawthorne streets
Liz Fabian
Macon’s new Family Justice Center has a contract on the former Virgil Powers school building to serve as the One Safe Place location for victim services.

Physically hurt and emotionally traumatized crime victims soon won’t have to traipse across Bibb County searching for support while painfully retelling their stories at every stop. 

To consolidate victim services under one roof, the One Safe Place Macon Family Justice Center hopes to purchase the old Virgil Powers school at 1120 Second St. adjacent to the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center. 

On Feb. 8, the Urban Development Authority, the school’s current owner, accepted the terms of a $500,000 real estate contract on the school and an adjacent vacant lot.

After the deal was approved earlier this month, UDA Chair Kay Gerhardt said the authority began the due-diligence phase and anticipate closing at the end of May, if all goes well. 

One Safe Place Macon Director Sarah Schanck said if the building passes the structural inspection, an architect and builder will begin designing the office and facilities for client services and training. 

Schanck said the location has a lot to offer.

“Great use of an existing building, close to the bus line and other municipal department offices, and having ample space for parking are just some of the reasons we like this location,” she said. 

The Juvenile Justice Court of Bibb County is a tenth-of- a- mile away, and it is only a six-minute walk to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. 

The proposed site is less than a half-mile from the Atrium Health Navicent Crescent House, which has committed to providing on-site interviews as one of nearly two dozen partner agencies participating in the Family Justice Center.

Atrium Health Navicent communications manager Amy Leigh Womack said Crescent House “specializes in providing services to children who have been abused, including forensic interviews and medical exams, crisis intervention, support, referrals for therapy and other evidence-based services.” 

Other partners will help One Safe Place Macon treat adults.

“Our goal is for families that may have multiple victims of various ages to receive as many services and support as possible in one location,” Schanck said. 

The facility will be one of the first of its kind in the state to be built under the impetus of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

In 1981, the Georgia General Assembly founded the CJCC to work in the governor’s office to unify the various organizations and entities working in the state’s criminal justice system. 

Nearly four years ago, the CJCC launched the Statewide Family Justice Center Initiative to create havens of consolidated services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. 

In November of 2020, Macon was selected along with Waycross and Cobb County to receive $300,000 in grant funds through the Victims of Crime Act to build Family Justice Centers. 

On Jan. 16, the Macon-Bibb County Commission earmarked $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the project to Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia, the fiscal agent for One Safe Place Macon.  

The county will recoup half of that million dollars in the expected sale of the school and the land at 1161 Third St. 

UDA Executive Director Alex Morrision said the Authority was proud to be able to discount the price for such an important project. 

Those two properties originally listed for $750,000 along with a historic church at 506 Hawthorne St. 

How UDA acquired old school

In 2009, when discussions were underway about building a new courthouse near the jail, Bibb County purchased the old school for $1 million, and also bought the Third Street property for $100, according to tax records. 

In 2013, Fulton Missionary Baptist sold its 150-year-old church to the county for $150,000. 

In 2019, Macon-Bibb County transferred all three properties to the UDA, which will now market the church separately if the school purchase goes through. 

Since this was purchased with local funds, we are obligated to recapture costs,” Morrison said.

In 2020 and 2021, Woda Cooper Companies’ plans for a $12 million housing development in the old school fell through when Low-Income Housing Tax Credits were not available. 

No residences or temporary housing are planned for One Safe Place Macon, although Crisis Line & Safe House intends to move its administrative offices from Hill Park to the new location. 

It will continue to maintain its shelter at the current confidential location, Schanck said. 

If the building passes the necessary inspections, One Safe Place will be better able to project  how much money needs to be raised to refurbish the school. 

“We have been blessed to have support on the federal, state and local level at this point to get this amazing collaborative effort for our community started,” she said. “Now we are working on our capital campaign plans to raise the dollars needed to make our place a reality.”

Sixteen partner agencies intend to co-locate to the old school and its adjacent annex building on the property, she said.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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