The Alexandria Academy building has moved a step closer to restoration with a bid by the real estate firm of Manarin and Odle to lease the building at the corner of Washington and Wolfe streets.
Negotiations began last week between the firm and the city to work out details of a long-term lease. Manarin and Odle, with offices next door to the Academy building, is the only firm to have bid on the Academy. It would like to lease the building for 40 years, restore it and use it for additional office space.
Constructed in 1785, the Academy building is believed to be one of the few 18th century school buildings standing in Virginia. George Washington was involved in the construction of the building and later paid for poor boys to attend school there. Robert E. Lee attended the academy in the early 1820s.
Assistant City Manager Bradford Hammer said he is "reasonably confident" that after the negotiations a "successful contract" can be presented to the City Council. Hammer says any contract will allow some form of public access to the structure while it serves as offices for Manarin and Odle. The city's objective, according to City Manager Douglas Harman, is to "see the building rehabilitated and available for viewing."
According to Mayor Charles Beatley, the city is interested in keeping the building, particularly the exterior, as close to its original state as possible. "The academy building is a real landmark, very important to the city's history," said Vice Mayor Patricia Ticer.
Leonard Manarin of Manarin and Odle emphasized that all his company now has is the "right to negotiate" a lease of the Academy, saying there are details to be worked out before any contract is possible. He says Manarin and Odle intends to allow the ground floor to be used for special events such as the annual Christmas Walk and George Washington's Birthday celebrations, while the upper floors would serve as offices.
Manarin said that this week's meetings will "give us a real good idea of which way it's going to go."
The company is seeking a 40-year lease of the building. Manarin says he does not know exactly what the restoration will cost but estimates a price of $300,000 to $400,000. He says that "unless you're right next door to the Academy building , you won't want to do this."
The restoration will require much work, Manarin says, and even with the anticipated tax benefits of the restoration, he expects the deal to be a loser economically. He says, however, that restoring the Academy building is a chance for him and his partner, Lydia Odle, to leave their imprint on the city. Both live in old houses in Old Town.
"There'd be a flood," Manarin said, "if people thought the Academy lease was a good deal. They'd be lined up for it ."
Ticer points out that the building needs major structural work, saying that, among other things, the foundations need to be shored up. Further delays in getting a renovation under way, Ticer says, could be dangerous.
Even after a contract is signed, Manarin and Odle will have to face a number of city agencies before beginning the restoration. Leonard Manarin is not sure exactly how many agencies he will have to deal with, but he is certain he will be before the Board of Architectural Review, the Board of Building Code Examiners and the Board of Zoning Appeals. The small building will require zoning variances for fire stairs and the number of parking spaces provided.