Town leaders consider old school project ideas

By Alex Bridges

STEPHENS CITY — Town leaders expect to hear about options for the old Stephens City School this month.

Town Council heard an update on the old Stephens City School at its regular meeting Tuesday. Town Manager Michael Kehoe told council that Frazier Associates of Staunton continues to study and assess the property.

Stephens City has a 4½-acre site with four buildings, including the original historic school. Kehoe foresees the town having many options for the campus.

“There’s a lot of potential there,” Kehoe said Wednesday. “I think [Frederick County] is pleased that the town has this and we can make something out of it.

“It’s gonna take a while,” Kehoe added. “It’s gonna take some money and some resources. It’s good for Stephens City and hopefully we’ll look at it as part of a revitalization project for the town.”

Options for the campus could include new office space for the town administration, a satellite location for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, educational facilities or a combination of uses.

Frazier Associates will present a report to the Town Council’s Old School Committee when the panel meets this month, Kehoe said. The committee then will continue to work with the consultant on the effort.

“We’re trying to get that as a cornerstone for the revitalization of Main Street in Stephens City,” Kehoe said.

Stephens City has owned the main, two-story structure and nearly an acre of the school property since the 1990s. Frederick County owned the remaining 3½ acres and three buildings until last fall when a decision was made to sell its stake as surplus property. Stephens City submitted the only bid and purchased the remaining school property for $100,000.

State grant money awarded to Stephens City requires the townto turn some of the space in the main school building into a transportation museum.

The town recently set up a temporary museum on Stephens City transportation for the recent Newtown Heritage Festival. The museum included a historic wagon that may have been built in Stephens City. Kehoe said he hopes the museum could soon become a permanent exhibit.

The town hired Frazier Associates to come up with possible uses for the entire school campus site. Kehoe recalled that some years ago the town applied for funds through the Community Development Block Grant program, administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The town sought the grant in the hopes of turning the old school into a community center. Stephens City came up short and the qualifications changed to make it more difficult for community centers to receive grants.

“We’ve been struggling to complete the renovations to the original building,” Kehoe said.

The town manager said they hope to seek funding through other grant sources and possibly historic renovation tax credits.

“There’s a whole smorgasbord of possibilities there,” Kehoe said.

The town maintenance crew continues to make minor repairs, such as painting or fixing windows in the cafeteria used as a weight room for police department staff.

“So there will be a presence down there so it will forestall vandalism until we figure out what we’re going to do with the rest of the property,” Kehoe said.

Keeping the buildings in use can thwart damage.

“It’s the old broken-window theory: If you don’t fix a broken window, it just encourages more broken windows, so we’re trying to show use on the property,” Kehoe said. “Things are definitely turning around there. The place is looking a lot better. We’ve been keeping the grounds clean.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com