There will soon be the tap tap tap of feet in Alexandria's 195-year-old Academy building, the oldest free-school building in Northern Virginia.
And it won't be the ghosts of George Washington or Robert E. Lee, both of whom were involved with the school during its colorful history.
Starting in January, the Little Theatre of Alexandria will be using the three-story Academy for classes such as tap dancing, acting, voice and production. They may also hold some rehearsals in the brick building, which is located at the intersection of Wolfe and S. Washington streets, just a few steps from the group's theater.
"We are very excited because we are so cramped for space in our building and need this place desperately," said Mark R. Depolo, president of the 900-member volunteer community theater, when he learned that the Alexandria School Board had voted unanimously last week to let the group lease the building for six months.
The Little Theatre will pay $100 a month rent to offset the cost of insurance and other minor expenses.
When the lease expires in June, the school board will consider whether to restore the building or turn it over to the city, according to a school spokesman.
"It's the oldest building we own," said Robert M. Harper, assistant to the superintendent for educational facilities and vocational education. "I don't know what will eventually happen to it, but with the money crunch on we can't afford to restore it at this point. Our priorities must be with our regular facilities."
The Academy has been vacant for the past few years. "Last year we drained the pipes and winterized it," said Harper. "I'm excited about the Little Theatre using it because then it will have heat in it and a family for the winter." The theater will pay its own utility costs.
The Alexandria Academy was established in 1785 with the financial backing of George Washington as a free school for children who had outgrown tutoring at home. Through the years it has been used as a grammar school, a site for school administration offices and, during World War II, as a nursery school to help working mothers.