Woodstock considers school for new town hall

WOODSTOCK – Real estate agents might call the old Woodstock school a “fixer-upper.”

Woodstock officials plan to turn the school at 403 W. Court St. into a new town administration building. First, Shenandoah County needs to hand over the old school, built in 1908, and an adjacent lot, to the town.

The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing last week on a memorandum of agreement that calls for the county to transfer the two parcels to the town. No one spoke at the hearing. The board needs to take action to approve the agreement. County Administrator Mary T. Price said the board will discuss the agreement at its work session this week and could take action Dec. 9.

Town Manager Reid Wodicka said during a recent tour of the building that Woodstock would not move forward with such a project for a few years. The cost of the project remains uncertain, but early estimates put the renovations at $1.8 million. Officials still need to look into ways to fund the project but the town should begin to pay off some older debt in the near future, Wodicka said.

Woodstock built the school for $5,000. The town later sold the building and lots to the school board for $40. The town will buy back the property for $1. The School Board deeded the school lot to the county in 2004.

Town Council has not yet seen the conceptual plans for the project drawn up by Staunton-based Frasier and Associates, Wodicka said. The draft of the design that council must approve has not been completed.

The town moved forward on a preliminary design to determine the potential cost of the project and to see if that estimate would be too high, Wodicka said.

“It was a very reasonable amount of money,” Wodicka said. “But if you think about it, the bones of the building are not bad.”

The cost to construct a new facility sometimes costs less than rehabilitating an older building.

“I think the idea is to save the old structure,” Wodicka said.

Wodicka described how the administrative offices would fit in the building.

“Everything needs to be gutted out,” Wodicka said. “The good thing is that the only asbestos in the building is in the boiler, which is not a bad thing.”

The building has four large rooms, but some are divided up by paneled walls added much later when the school board moved its administrative offices into the facility. Many of the departments would use space on the ground floor. Early designs put Town Council’s chambers, its conference room and the town manager’s office in spaces on the second floor. The town would need to tear out partitions in parts of the building and perform other demolishing work, some of which Woodstock employees might do, Wodicka said. Gutting the inside likely could take a few weeks, he added.

“We’ll take all the temporary stuff, obviously, and rehab everything, and then we’re going to try to take advantage of the openness of the space while also still having some private offices,” Wodicka said. “The idea is to keep the ceilings high and then sort of have walls that are 7-feet high and then glass to the ceiling so you get this very open feeling while still having private office space.”

In addition to renovations, the building would need an elevator – often a costly amenity.

Rehabilitation would include exposing some of the building’s original features such as the molding.

“So that’s really the whole idea – try to take advantage of the historic character of the building,” Wodicka said.

Town officials don’t plan to move the police department into the future administration building, Wodicka said. They haven’t decided if the department should move into the current Town Hall once the administrative offices move to the school or if the town would build a separate facility for the agency on the school property. Town officials also haven’t decided what to do with the vacant lots across West Court Street from the school.

Several years ago, the Shenandoah Agency on Aging proposed turning the school building into its offices and then constructing senior housing on the adjacent lot. That plan fell through and People Inc. proposed to renovate just the school into low-income senior housing. Supervisors earlier this year turned down the proposal after residents said they feared the county would neglect the school building.

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