The Bethel Historical Society in Woodbridge is spearheading a movement to save a 60-year-old, two-room brick schoolhouse in Dale City.

The school, at Dale Boulevard and Smoketown Road, is slated to be razed in September to make way for the parking lot of a shopping center under construction there. Society spokesman Thomas Nelson said the group of 12 active members is trying to spark community interest in the building, which now houses the Muriel Humphrey/Respite Day Care Center for Handicapped Children.

The parking lot will include a commuter lot, county officials said. Nelson said Prince William County will contribute $200 for a historical marker on the site but that his group is not satisfied with that. "This building was an important part of the community, and by state and county standards anything over 50 years old can be considered historical."

The building began life in 1914 as a four-room frame school, burned in 1927, and was replaced with the brick facility. Children from first grade through the third year of high school were educated in the building, which doubled as a center "around which the organized life of the entire community revolved," according to a history written by county resident Janet Murphy, who died 12 years ago.

"Nothing gets a chance to be historical around here," society member Marc Leepson said. "Everything gets torn down. What is considered significant?"

Supervisor Kathleen Seefeldt, whose district borders the day care center area, said the site, not the building, is historic. "The county historical commission has recommended that a nice monument be erected in the parking lot and the developer has agreed to it," Seefeldt said. "The building is not old enough to be considered historical; the important thing is that the center will continue to operate."

The Muriel Humphrey School for Retarded Children, the first private school for retarded children to be located in the county, was established in the building in 1969. When the county began its own public school classes for retarded children, the facility was taken over by the day care center in 1979. The center is operated by the Association for Retarded Citizens of Greater Prince William.

The day care program, which cares for several dozen children between the ages of 1 and 17, will be moved to Bethel Methodist Church across the street. It will remain there until a new center can be built on a three-acre parcel on Hillendale Road in the Neabsco magisterial district, according to center director Karen Smith.

"When this building is destroyed, I will shed lots of tears," Smith said. "My career in the day care business started here." Smith said the center wanted to save the building and asked the developer, B.T.R. Inc., how much it would cost to move it to another site.

"It would have cost us $10,000," Smith said. "It would have even cost $1,000 apiece to save the two red dogwoods on the property. We're raising money for the new center and we feel our donors' money would be better spent on the children."