A Battle Against the Bulldozers

By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 22, 2008

The 69-year-old redbrick building at 24244 Gum Spring Rd. shows its age.

Paint is peeling from the windows, the wood floors aren't spotless, bushes are overgrown and public utilities such as water and sewage aren't hooked up.

Loudoun County officials have long had plans to tear down the building, which served as the Arcola Community Center for nearly 30 years, and put up a satellite government center in its place.

But some parents hope history will be on their side as they works to preserve the old Arcola School, built in 1939 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

"I think it's a shame," said Sandra Mitchell of South Riding, whose children attended the old community center. "There's other land available for parking lots and office buildings that doesn't involve demolishing a historical building."

The property's history was validated in May, when the nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities put the former school on its 2008 list of the state's endangered historical sites. The organization said that the Arcola School was the first multi-room public school in Loudoun.

Mitchell and other parents want to see the old school restored and used once again as a community center, a function it served until 2006.

Paul Brown, assistant to the county administrator, said the county welcomes the group's proposal, adding that it would have to address building code requirements and the stricter state regulations for preschools and child-care centers that have taken effect since the Arcola facility was shut down.

"We're in a waiting mode," Brown said. "Our plans are in the future, and we're waiting on their proposal."

The county decided in 2003 that renovating the Arcola School would not be cost-effective and two years ago moved the community center to an elementary school at 24328 Goshen Rd. while a facility was built.

The Dulles South Multipurpose Center, which opened this month, has replaced the Arcola Community Center.

But the group says the new facility, which isn't fully completed, won't be able to serve all of the area's needs.

More than 400 children are on a waiting list for the community center's preschool program, said Laura TeKrony, who was a member of the Arcola Community Center Advisory Committee.

"There's a huge need, particularly in the Dulles district," TeKrony said. "We felt that this was an opportunity, not only to preserve the school but to bring back the community center."

Getting the school recognized as a historical site is only one step in the group's plan.

The residents are exploring the idea of starting a nonprofit organization, Friends of Arcola Community Center, and of seeking grants for the renovation. They have lined up support from businesses, including local builders who said they would do the renovation at cost, and Inova Health System, which has donated legal services, TeKrony said.

The parents hope to submit a proposal to the county by the end of the year. It is unclear how much the renovation would cost, but TeKrony said estimates were nearly $2 million a few years ago.

Although the Virginia preservation organization might not get directly involved, its annual list has sometimes helped local efforts to save sites.

"It's mainly for awareness . . . to help with advocacy on the local level with increased awareness," said Tina Calhoun, marketing and public relations director for the association. "We have had successes in the past."

Those successes include the Hayfield Manor in Caroline County, listed as endangered in 2005. The antebellum mansion, built in 1750, was renovated after appearing on the list and is being used as a community center, said Elizabeth Kostelny, executive director of the preservation association.

As it stands, the old Arcola School is scheduled to be replaced by the 21,000-square-foot Southern Government Services Center by 2016, Brown said. "Our plan is to demolish the old building," he said.

TeKrony said that she knows the group has a big task ahead of it but that she hopes the community will pull together.

"We're parents," she said. "I think it can be done. But it's just a matter of getting the right resources."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company