0
Votes

Teen Center Project Inches Forward

The opening of the Public Schools Administrative Office in fall 2004 leaves two buildings vacant that now house the administrative offices, buildings that could be used for a proposed county teen center according to members of the Board of Supervisors and two county committees.

“I was persuaded there was a definite need for more youth activities that provided adult supervision,” said Supervisor Mark Herring (D-Leesburg), adding that constructing a new building for a teen center would cost the county $6-7 million according to a 2001 county study. “I was concerned about the county’s debt picture and the amount of funding for the project.”

The Board of Supervisors looked into using a vacant building owned by the county or School District, deciding to wait for the final report of the Facilities and Office Space Task Force. The task force is a citizens’ panel with Town of Leesburg and School Board representation tasked to identify the School District’s administrative needs. The report said the North Street Administrative Office and the Douglass Support Facility “would be vacated once the school’s administration building was completed.”

“With the vacated space then available for other government purposes, it was envisioned that one possible use for those buildings was the … teen center,” said Chairman Scott York in a letter to the School Board dated May 28. “Last fall, county staff became aware of other uses being considered” by the School District for the two buildings, York continued, adding, “Obviously, such decisions would have a serious impact on the plans and progress of the teen center.”

“The school administration seems to be dragging their feet,” Herring said. “They’re still not willing to sit down with the county. I’m disappointed the School [District] hasn’t done any more planning or given more thought to this.”

A HALF DOZEN Loudoun residents who spoke at the June 11 School Board meeting agreed that the board’s decision on the future use of the North Street Administrative Office and the Douglass Support Facility, both located in Leesburg, has taken too long.

“We were stalled by the indecisiveness on where the teen center would be located,” said Briana Mills of the Loudoun County Advisory Commission on Youth, according to a letter Tom Marshall read to the School Board.

Like Mills, the majority of the speakers had some involvement with the Advisory Commission on Youth, which the Board of Supervisors appointed in fall 2000. The commission and the county’s Office on Youth conducted a feasibility study on the need for a teen center, determining that it would ideally provide social activities for middle and high school students, along with tutoring, job training and mentoring. The two groups presented the findings in January 2001 to the Board of Supervisors, which in turn authorized $1.5 million for a teen center to match $500,000 in community contributions that need to be raised.

A few of the speakers said the Douglass Support Facility would be an ideal location for a teen center, located in the “hub of Leesburg” and accessible to youth, as speaker Diana El-Osta said. The Douglass Support Facility, built in 1958, is located near the Douglass School and Community Center, which houses a public alternative school and Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services programs. The North Street Administrative Office was built in 1925 and has served as the primary administrative office since 1988.

“It’s important to make the most efficient use of our existing facilities,” said Wes Corber of Purcellville, a member of the Advisory Commission on Youth.

SCHOOL BOARD members said they support the idea of a teen center.

“I don’t think you would find any better advocates of teens and children than members of this board,” said School Board Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles). “No one ever said anything to us about it.”

Candyce Cassell (Sugarland Run) agreed. She said nobody asked the School Board to be involved in planning of the teen center, adding that if the board did not know about the project, the members did not have a hand in stopping it from going forward.

“The first thing we have to do … is to take a look at the property we own and make a decision whether we may need the property now or in the future,” said Harry Holsinger (Blue Ridge). “The decision on whether or not we need the property is ours and ours alone.”

School Board members agreed they did not want to make a “quick decision” on future use of the property, as stated by John Andrews (Broad Run). They said the properties where the buildings sit could be redeveloped into school sites or sold to help pay off the county’s debt or to fund building the teen center.

“Those two facilities in part lend themselves to be declared as surplus by the board if we can’t use them for school purposes,” said Superintendent Edgar Hatrick, adding that the property would then be reverted back to the county, or the board could agree to a long-term lease.

VOGRIC SUGGESTED that the School Board obtain commercial appraisals of the two properties and form a committee or task force to inventory the School District’s facilities and their uses. “Obviously, we’ll have empty space somewhere," Vogric said. "We need to look first among ourselves and our community to see what we have. There are a lot of things we need to do first."

Hatrick said an inventory could be completed by September. The School Board agreed to discuss the issue further at the board’s fall retreat in October. The board has until 2004 to make a decision.

“Everyone involved is pleased the School Board is going to move forward to consider the options they have,” said Ann Miles, manager of the Youth Services Division of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. “We’re not going to have it [the teen center] next week … but the process for coming to some determination for use of the properties has begun.”