The future of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation's nationally-acclaimed boatbuilding apprenticeship program for at-risk youth is in question due to the city's plans for development along the waterfront.
Photo by Jeanne Theismann.
Alexandria I am a solid supporter and board member of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation (ASF) and very proud of the help we provide at-risk and underserved youth. It is a great and satisfying feeling to see our apprentices develop the career and life skills that will help them become contributing members of the community.
With the development of the waterfront and the sale of Robinson Terminal south, the future of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation is at risk. Robinson Terminal south has been the home of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation for close to 10 years and provides 8,200 square feet of space in which to build its boats. ASF has been building boats and changing lives since 1995, using boatbuilding projects as a platform in which to educate and train at-risk young adults. Through our "build to teach"/hands-on experiential approach to learning and an emphasis on workforce development, ASF instills in young people a newfound sense of purpose and hope. However, without the space to build our boats, this program will be lost as will the opportunity to change lives and build futures.
I participated in both recent public sessions concerning the development of the waterfront. The first concept design meeting, held on Feb. 6, provided two choices for the future look and functionality of the waterfront. Both choices identified a building near the foot of Duke Street as the "civic center/Seaport Foundation" and also showed our current floating Seaport office and work space at the same location. The speaker indicated that this space was to be used by the Seaport Foundation to build boats and continue its work with young apprentices. Although the words were a little “soft” as to the total use of the space, it was clear that the Seaport Foundation was to be part of that building. Also clearly stated by the presenter was the broad community support expressed for the continuation of the Foundation.
The second meeting, held on March 6, began with a review of the previous meeting and the display of a new plan reflecting the thoughts and suggestions which had come about from the first meeting. Clearly shown on one of the slides was a comment stating strong community support for the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. Sadly, when the new plan was displayed, the building that had previously been shown to house the Seaport Foundation now showed the building as simply a “Civic Center” with absolutely no mention of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation other than in reference to our floating office. As previously mentioned, ASF currently uses 8,200 square feet of space in Robinson Terminal south to build and store boats and boat building materials and conduct training for the apprentices. Our floating office, 300 square feet of space used for administrative staff, clearly cannot support the boat building apprenticeship program.
What was said about this new shift which could significantly impact the Alexandria Seaport Foundation? The city planning office offered at the March 6 meeting that there were “potential liability issues concerning the use of the space by ASF” ….. nothing definitive …. nothing clarifying.
Having watched this city work on numerous projects and seen first-hand the importance of citizen input, I am confident that without strong community involvement, the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, and the many young at-risk apprentices it helps, will be homeless and without work.
The time is now for the City Council, the planners and administration to clarify how the Alexandria Seaport Foundation fits in to the waterfront plan between Duke and Prince streets and its role in fulfilling the need for a “working seaport” on our waterfront. If maritime heritage and activating the waterfront are to play a key role in the future of our city, who will take that on if the Alexandria Seaport Foundation's educational boat building programs are no longer a part of our waterfront?