The Hospice of Northern Virginia, preparing for the opening this fall of a 15-bed, inpatient facility for the terminally ill, has asked the Arlington County Board to donate to it the former Woodlawn School, which the hospice currently rents for $1 a year.

Three years ago, the county and the hospice signed a 50-year lease on the building and land, at 4715 N. 15th St., which currently are assessed by that time appropriated $219,000 to help start up and renovate the building for an outpatient program.

Joseph S. Wholey, hospice president and a former Arlington County Board member, said the hospice plans to open the 15-bed inpatient facility at the former school Sept. 1. Ownership of the building would allow the hospice to use the facility as collateral to borrow as much as $200,000 to help with renovation costs.

"I think if we owned the building it would allow (the) hospice to use the building as security for a small mortgage so we don't have to worry if we have the money in hand to finish equiping the building," said Wholey, who was a County Board member when the original lease with the hospice was signed.

The hospice, the only one of its kind in Northern Virginia, was established in 1978 as a home care program. Under that program, terminally ill patients and their families are visited regularly for counseling by a team of nurses and social workers. Hospices try to provide the terminally ill with an opportunity to die "with dignity," that is, in comfortable surroundings, preferably with their families at their sides, instead of in a "sterile" hospital atmosphere. Recently, the hospice began a similar program for children.

Wholey said that even after the inpatient facility is completed, the home care program will continue. Nearly two-thirds of the patients, he noted, prefer home care. Those patients who will be admitted to the inpatient facility generally will be too ill for home care. In the more than three years the hospice has been open, 450 patients have been treated, according to a hospice spokeswoman.

The renovation, which calls for modernizing the 45-year-old building and bringing it up to hospital standards, is expected to cost about $1 million. So far, in addition to Arlington, four other Northern Virginia jurisdictions -- Fairfax County, Falls Church, Fairfax City and Alexandria -- as well as a variety of church groups and private foundations, have contributed nearly all the funds needed for the new facility. However, Wholey said, the hospice still needs $100,000 to $200,000 to complete the project.

Ownership of the former school, Wholey added, would allow the hospice to receive tax benefits such as depreciation of the building and, through room charges, "get a little extra in bills which would help us in the early years to have a little extra cash flow (since) some insurance companies are beginning to cover hospice care."

Under the terms of the proposed sale agreement, which the County Board will consider at its meeting May 16, the building would revert to the county, if it were no longer needed by the hospice, unless there were a foreclosure by the lending bank.

In recent years, the county has donated only one other piece of public land to a private group when, in 1976, it deeded a site at 3710 Lee Hwy. to the Camelot Hall Nursing Home.

County Board chairman Stephen H. Detwiler said it is "99.0 percent certain" that the hospice request will be approved. "There is every evidence that the program has established itself and is viable," Detwiler said.