LETTER: Public Spaces Should Not Be Privatized

August 19, 2012


We the people own a collective array of resources that should not be exploited for private gain.

For the Founding Fathers, and later the high court, this notion is the original countermeasure to governmental abuse.

This is the current struggle for the old Cape Charles School — should Town Council have the ability to control the access and use of public space and assets?

Yes, the old school, especially the gymtorium, is public space, and the building and grounds are public assets.

Our public spaces have always served as a metaphor for our shared participation in the American dream of equality.

Public spaces are meant to be places where people from different backgrounds create a Cape Charles that includes everyone, and excludes no one.

It also invokes the notion of Lawrence Lessing’s idea of the Commons, “a resource in joint use or possession to be held or enjoyed equally by a number of persons.”

According to the courts, generally accessible government-owned places are tradition puble fora, and the American “traditional public forum doctrine” emphasizes the government’s role in protecting citizens’ access to public spaces such as the old school. These are the basic building blocks of our democracy.

In 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court held that while public places

. . . may rest in governments, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights and liberties of citizens.

In short, the Town cannot sell the building, because it belongs to us — we the people. To do so flies in the face of the high court, but also against the moral, ethical guidelines of fair governance.

The old school is one of the last real places left where citizens can have a relationship with the authentic history of this town. Private apartments are not an acceptable historical renovation.

If the Town is allowed to sell the school, at what point will it stop? Will they be allowed to sell the park, or privatize the beach?

In the end, a place that for 100 years had belonged to everyone, a place where everyone could go, will now be accessed only by the chosen few.

The basketball court will be closed. The gym will be torn down, along with all the memories and the last wispy strands of good will left in Cape Charles.

Cape Charles

Wayne Creed is president of Old School Cape Charles, LLC.

Letters to the Editor are welcome on any subject relevant to the Town of Cape Charles, and a diversity of opinions is encouraged. Submissions should be emailed to [email protected].



13 Responses to “LETTER: Public Spaces Should Not Be Privatized”

  1. Bob Panek on August 18th, 2012 11:27 pm

    The penultimate paragraph of this letter is appalling, given the history of public education in Virginia. Just a little research would be beneficial.

  2. Kathy Fraas on August 20th, 2012 11:48 am

    Agreed Bob . . . 100 years — not so much! My friend and neighbor was not allowed to walk through the doors of that school when it opened … not such an illustrious history after all.

  3. Bob Panek on August 20th, 2012 12:55 pm

    Yes, before folks get too dewy-eyed about the building they should read the historical marker in front of the former Cape Charles Colored School on Old Cape Charles Road; http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=51004

  4. Lisa Harman on August 21st, 2012 10:26 am

    The old school in Cape Charles is an asset of the community. It is part of the history of this town. One hundred years ago the school was segregated but was desegregated at the same time as other public schools in Virginia and remained so until the last graduating class in 1987. I don’t feel that we should give away our public assets because at one time they were segregated. If we did, we would not have any old public buildings in the state. Unfortunately we cannot change history but we can learn from it and not repeat it. I attended Cape Charles Public School from 1966 to 1978 when it was an integrated school and have many fond and dewy-eyed memories alongside both black and white students. It is a shame that Town Council is giving away, to a private business, not just the old school but also the basketball court and the parking for the playground. This is just wrong.

  5. Susan Bauer on August 21st, 2012 11:29 am

    “a place where everyone could go”

    Not hardly. Many current residents of this town do not share your fond memories and nostalgia for the “Old School,” as they only recall being forbidden to attend it.

  6. Jean Johnson on August 21st, 2012 12:16 pm

    I have no former affiliation or good or bad memories of the Cape Charles School. However, as a local resident I feel the school was highly undervalued in the deal that was struck with the Richmond developer. The townspeople deserve more from this asset.

  7. Susan Bauer on August 21st, 2012 7:46 pm

    If the developer paid $10.00 for that building, in my opinion it was $9.99 too much. The town is relieved of the burden of renovating and maintaining an 18,000 square foot building that is neither architecturally unique or historically significant. Even tearing it down and carting away the rubble would be an enormous expense that the town avoids by unloading the school on a private developer.

  8. Kathleen Fraas on August 21st, 2012 8:27 pm

    I’m confused…I thought this was a forum for a response to the letter to the editor in which the writer (and I use the term loosely) clearly states that the building in question was free to enjoy by everyone for 100 years. History proves otherwise was all I was pointing out. I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s memories. With all due respect I do not see that building as an asset to this community in its current state nor do I want to sign on to paying for any million dollar renovation on our tax dollars.

  9. Bob Panek on August 21st, 2012 11:11 pm

    You are correct, Kathleen. My comment was simply addressing the absolutely incorrect statement made by the author. It was in no way intended to imply that the building should be sold because of its history as a segregated facility. That is a separate issue. I think it is important to occasionally take issue with the outlandish statements of this author. The premise of the letter that public property should not and cannot be sold is another flight of fancy. The Code of Virginia authorizes localities to do so. At the Federal level, GSA has disposed of about $3 billion of real estate since 1987, two thirds of it sold to private parties.

  10. Susan Bauer on August 22nd, 2012 8:04 am

    Right again, Bob. Even structures as iconic as historic Chesapeake Bay lighthouses have been lawfully auctioned by the US Coast Guard to private bidders who turned them into (gasp!) vacation homes. There is very little information in this letter to the editor that is not patently false. I am starting to wonder about the editorial review of letters submitted to this fine piece of web journalism.

    A word of explanation regarding the policy of the Cape Charles Wave seems to be in order: Letters to the Editor are accepted on any subject relevant to Cape Charles. The Wave does not subject a letter to “editorial review” of the opinions expressed, although letters may be edited for length and clarity. Nor does the Wave edit readers’ comments that are dripping with sarcasm. — EDITOR

  11. Marita Patterson on August 22nd, 2012 8:56 am

    “Nor does the Wave edit readers’ comments that are dripping with sarcasm. — EDITOR”

    This sentence should have stopped after “comments.”

  12. Susan Bauer on August 22nd, 2012 9:41 am

    If you want to blog, then blog. If you want to be taken seriously as a journalistic endeavor and “follow the principles of a newspaper” as you claim, then educate yourself on the ethical and legal responsibilities of a newspaper, which includes not disseminating undeniably false information. All legitimate newspapers establish a policy of editorial review. As an attorney with 27 years of experience practicing law, trust me, their legal counsel would insist upon it.

  13. Dana Lascu on August 23rd, 2012 5:45 pm

    I am grateful to the Cape Charles Wave for publishing interesting thought pieces and information that we otherwise would not have the time and willingness to seek, and for creating a venue for a spirited dialogue – one that is mostly unfiltered. The filtered alternative would be your bland and witless regional paper, a “legitimate newspaper” that is, in effect, crap.

    This letter to the editor has produced quite a reaction and I too take issue with it. “We the people” voted for our Town Council, and Town Council members voted to sell the School based on what they perceived as their mandate: to represent our best interests. I too hoped we could have held on to the building and the lots. But this is a done deal and it is time for us all to move on, drop the lawsuit, and cease the tirades. It is also time to remove the eyesore signs in the heart of the town and tone down the accusations of discrimination and segregation – accusations we are not particularly entitled to make when we send our children to white schools. At minimum, let us follow John Lennon’s direction and “imagine all the people living life in peace….”