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Extreme makeover: Toms Brook edition

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Rob Goldsmith, president and CEO of People Inc., stands inside the gymnasium of the former Toms Brook School on Monday. People Inc., with assistance from the town, Shenandoah County and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony at 11 a.m. Friday for a project to renovate the structure into 14 affordable apartments. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Peeling paint from the front columns and gutters has made the facade of the former Toms Brook School an eyesore to the community. Rich Cooley/Daily

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A broken glass pane stands over the address marker for the former Toms Brook School. Rich Cooley/Daily

Dilapidated former school to be converted into affordable housing

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

TOMS BROOK -- Around shards of glass, graffiti-filled walls and floors dirty enough to put some pigpens to shame, it's hard to imagine the Toms Brook School was once a place where children were educated.

It's far more difficult to picture the property as affordable rental units for some of those same learners to enjoy life in retirement.

People Inc., with assistance from the town, Shenandoah County and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, has pledged to do just that, and all of the planning that has gone into it will advance to physical labor with an 11 a.m. groundbreaking Friday.

The southwest Virginia-based organization, which is using community development block grant funds and historic and low-income tax credits for the multimillion-dollar project, will convert the blighted school into 14 apartments, as well as turn the former auditorium into a space for public events.

"We believe, we certainly hope, that taking this building, which is obviously a real drag on the community, and turning it into a showplace will be a benefit to the whole community," People Inc. President and CEO Rob Goldsmith said during a site visit Monday.

The 14 apartments, which would house about 30 people, are targeted for those who
live in the area and may even have attended the school. Mayor Phil Fauber said the 1930s building served pupils through 12th grade until 1959, when Strasburg and Central high schools opened. At that point, Toms Brook became a first- through seventh-grade school.

Fauber attended it until the seventh grade. The school closed in the early 1990s.

"Remembering it from the days when it was a school, it's quite an experience when you go in [now]," Fauber said.

It is a mess inside -- there probably are asbestos and lead-based paint to get rid of -- with broken windows and vulgar language sprayed onto virtually every wall among the eyesores that stick out.

"We've done buildings not quite this bad before," Goldsmith said. "You could see the sky, but not in quite so many places."

Yet People Inc. takes on such projects for the betterment of communities, and the Toms Brook School is still structurally sound enough to make its potential worth the investment, he said.

Once construction begins in August or September, crews will restore the look of historic aspects of the building, such as doors, the front entrance and windows overlooking the auditorium, while creating something new that can pass as a renaissance for the town, he said.

Property values should increase, jobs will be created through construction and then long-term management and maintenance of the building, and there will be an opportunity to hold civic group events, Town Council meetings, weddings and birthday parties.

"Our hope is, that in addition to affordable housing, this will have a significant community development impact," Goldsmith said.

There probably won't be basketball games, which give Fauber some of his fondest memories. The hoops and backboards are still hanging, however.

When the school hosted games, Fauber said it was common to have many people on the second level watching through the windows.

"Like a packed arena," he said.

People took pride in the building because it was such a part of the community, Fauber said. People Inc. is trying to recapture some of that feeling.

"There's been a good bit of interest," Fauber said. "Most of the excitement was just getting something started, I think."

The groundbreaking is open to the public. The project is scheduled to be finished at the end of next year.


All this work will be done and everyone will feel better about themselves for making yet another housing area for wards of the state but in five years, it will look exactly as it does today. Dont beleive me? Take a stroll through the "New and Improved" Valley Vista Apartments; holes in the walls, used prophylactics in the parking lot, beer bottles and cigarette butts everywhere. Your tax dollars at work.

Are there any unused prophylactics in decent condition? Also, how long are the cigarette butts? Do they have a couple of good puffs left on them? My lack of government assistance has me looking to cut corners wherever I can. I don't want to have to change my lifestyle--just do it on the cheap.

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