Last November, Richard Smith and his wife, Monique, installed the largest US flag in the state on their property off Interstate 95 as a way to honor current and retired members of the military and law enforcement.
Smith said he offered $100,000 of stone aggregate (crushed concrete) to the Chesterfield Cultural Arts Foundation for use in building an arts center in Chester in 2016. However, art center project manager Mike Lainge notified the foundation last week that the lion’s share of the donation – 75 percent or more – would not be used.
Lainge works for ECI Development Services of Richmond, which is being paid $8,500 a month or $102,000 a year to manage the $16.88 million project. (Chesterfield County Supervisor Steve Elswick’s wife, Jasna Elswick, the county’s capital projects and programs division chief, managed the arts center project until county administration moved it to the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority, which hired Lainge’s firm in December 2017.)
Last week, Lainge was less than forthcoming about why the decision was made not to use most of Smith’s aggregate. Multiple times Lainge either referred questions to the arts foundation or offered a “no comment.” So much for the taxpayers’ dollars being used for open and accessible government (only about 12.5 percent of the project is funded by the arts foundation, the rest is publicly funded through revenue bonds).
“We are extremely disappointed by this latest development and hope that something may work out in the future to more fully capitalize on this generous donation by R.J. Smith Cos.,” arts foundation chair Hugh Cline said. He added that “the county specification requirements will not be met by the materials that R.J. Smith is providing, according to the EDA and their advisors.”
On Friday, July 19, Smith offered his perspective on the situation. “It’s not uncommon for different projects to have different specs and sizes,” he said. “You want the best choice for the long term.”
As it turns out, his construction company and his wife’s recycling company, USA Iron and Metal, have other services that they are willing to contribute to the arts center to make up the remainder of the $100,000 donation. The companies offer a variety of hauling, debris removal and recycling services.
“We will work with them to seek other pathways to participate so that the project can benefit from our generous contributions,” Richard said.
Last week, Lainge gave an update on the arts center to the EDA board. He said that work to add a second parking lot south of the Chester Library is currently underway and that plans are to start work Sept. 1 on the site north of the library, which is where the Baxter Perkinson Center for the Arts will be located.