Dozens of people interested in recyling soon-to-be-closed schools in Montgomery County into such enterprises as martial arts studios and lens grinding plants filled a county office yesterday to learn how to apply for leases.
About 150 people attended a meeting to learn how to acquire the 23 buildings once they are closed this year and next.
"I'm looking into possible conversion to residential use for elderly or nursing homes," said Dean Morehouse, project manager of Bush Construction Corp., of Alexandria. "They have wide grounds, solid construction. It's just a matter of internal alterations."
Rents will range from $30,000 to $200,000 yearly, county officials said, causing groans by some of those seeking leases who admitted that they have little money. Many saw the schools as an opportunity to expand, diversify, make a buck, or just start out.
"We are always holding church in somebody else's building," said Young Kim of Arlington, a member of the area-wide Korean Church of Washington. "We hope to have a building for our own church, maybe have a school, too."
Others proposed using the schools for day care centers, or for an office for St. Luke's House, a group now housed in a Bethesda church basement that monitors the progress of former residents of the state's mental institutions.
Robert Dunn, owner of Homer Optical in Silver Spring, is considering the Four Corners or Brookview Elementary school to expand his wholesale laboratory facilities.
But obtaining a lease will not be simple. Public hearings are required and some uses may require zoning changes. James L. Boston, senior planner for the county's Office of Management and Budget, said none of the buildings are for immediate sale and that nothing shorter than a 10-year lease will be accepted.
Also, groups seeking to keep several schools open have filed appeals with the state board of education. Any new use of the buildings depends on the outcome of those appeals, Boston said.
It may also be difficult to inspect the properties, as prospective lessees are forbidden to tour the buildings during school hours.
If all other factors are equal, the highest bidder will get the building, Boston said. On most occasions, however, groups or uses that would be most compatible with the neighborhood will win the lease, he said.
All of the buildings are in single-family residential areas, Boston said.
Annual rents are figured on the condition and age of the buildings. Brookview Elementary, a small school with poor road access, is the cheapest, at $30,000. Peary Senior High, a huge facility with a large debt, will rent for $200,000.
Offers in writing are due to the county by Feb. 5.
Clyde Takeguchi and John Kenney hope to have a serious offer by then. They're looking for a classroom for their Capital Aikikai martial arts club, which has members from Washington to West Virginia. The problem: "We have no money," Takeguchi says.
Others are looking to replace the schools with new schools. "My wife owns the Colesville Montessori School and we want to expand," said Army Lt. Col. Kenneth Thomas, 47. "This is a good opportunity."