Woodstock mulls using old school for municipal building

Town approaches county about transferring ownership

By Alex Bridges

Woodstock could turn the old school into its new municipal building if Shenandoah County gives the property back to the town.

Town Manager Reid Wodicka said Thursday he and County Administrator Mary Beth T. Price have spoken about the idea in recent weeks and that Town Council has discussed it in closed session.

Mayor Jeremy McCleary noted that the idea is in the early stages.

“We’re not at a point where we feel like we’d be dictating any terms at this point,” McCleary said, adding the town is just “kicking the tires” trying to figure out if they’re interested.

“If the terms are right and everything it could be an exciting project for the community,” McCleary said.

The town has hired the architectural firm Frazier Associates to look at the structure’s stability as well as needs for rehabilitation and related cost estimates. The firm was hired through the town’s in-house procurement process that did not require council action. If the town moves forward with the architect on designs, the public would have more opportunities to weigh in on it, Wodicka said. Council also would need to take action on designs and other steps in the process.

Woodstock officials already have one potential use in mind for the school on West Court Street should the county offer: a new town municipal building to house administrative offices and the police department, Wodicka said. The town owns several parcels adjacent to the school.

“I think it’s something that everyone is interested in and I think could really be a great project for the community and the neighborhood, and it has the potential to be really good and be a huge step forward for us,” Wodicka said.

A study performed in 2006 showed the town needed more space for its municipal offices, Wodicka recalled.

“I want to be careful in making any promises on what’s going to happen because I just don’t know,” Wodicka said. “If we’re talking about lots and lots of money, I don’t want to give people the impression that it’s going to be done. We need to understand what kind of financial impact it’s going to have for us before we make any kind of definite guarantee.”

The town needs to conduct a feasibility study to see how much it would cost to take over and restore the building and look to see if it would solve some of the town administration’s space needs.

“Eventually we would need to talk about what kind of terms the board would want to set after we talk about it with them,” Wodicka said.

Conversations have not yet included preservation or other civic group representatives, but could in the future, Wodicka said. Any approach to restoring the building would keep in line with its historic character while still making it functional, he said.

It remains uncertain whether action by the town to take the school building would satisfy the dozens of area residents who fought a proposal to build low-income, senior housing on part of the property. People Inc. had planned to build the project on the parcel located on the other side of West Court Street. That effort failed when the Board of Supervisors voted against entering into an agreement with People Inc. on the project.

The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging proposed several years ago to turn the school into office space for a new headquarters and to build apartments for senior citizens on the vacant parcel. The agency’s plans fell through when it suffered financial problems.

People Inc. stepped in a couple of years ago when asked if it would have interest in building on the site. While People Inc. did not want to restore the school building, the organization did see a use for the vacant parcel associated with the property. A year after the Board of Supervisors endorsed People Inc.’s plans, county leaders reversed their stance when residents and a board member questioned the proposal, mainly on the grounds that the project would no longer include the school building. Other people criticized the county for trying to give away potentially profitable property rather than offer it for sale.

The latest assessment shows the property is worth $476,000, county records show.

Woodstock built the school on the site decades ago and ran the facility until the town gave the parcels to the Shenandoah County Public Schools. The county system closed the school and transferred ownership of the parcel with the building to the county.

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