Oakton’s Schoolhouse can move, but will it? A study of the building, portions of which date to the 1890s, has found that it has enough structural integrity to withstand being transported from its current location on the grounds of the now defunct Appalachian Outfitters.
Other buildings have actually been constructed around the schoolhouse, leaving only one side of the original building exposed to the elements, has been used by the retail establishment for decades. Now that the business has closed, Chevy Chase Bank plans to build a new branch on the site.
The bank, however, has no desire to have the Schoolhouse on the site. The historic nature of the building offers it no protection, said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence). “There’s nothing that can stop them from tearing this down,” she said.
The bank, because it is federally chartered, must go through a “106 process,” which gets its name from Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The Act mandates that federal agencies take into account the effect their actions have on places of historic significance. If it were not a bank buying the property, the extra level of scrutiny would not be necessary. “Anything else that came in there could just tear it down,” Smyth said.
The question now is what to do with the structure? The report, completed in December, removes one question mark from the equation. “The good news is that the oldest part of the Schoolhouse is still in relatively good shape,” said Bob Adams of the Friends of the Oakton Schoolhouse.
The Friends group hopes to move the Schoolhouse up Hunter Mill Road to the Oakton Community Park. The park, currently in its planning phase, is to be located on the Corbalis Property of about 10 acres. The park plan, which has been drafted by a task force but not yet approved, sets aside space for the Schoolhouse.
The Fairfax County Park Authority, Adams said, does not want to fund the operation or maintenance of the Schoolhouse, even if it is on park property. The Friends group, Adams said, has raised sufficient funds to set up an endowment that will be able to renovate and maintain the building well into the future, and it plans to continue to raise funds for operating costs if the Schoolhouse is moved and reopened.
One group, however, questions the need for moving the building. “We are concerned about moving a historic structure at all,” said Jody Bennett of the Hunter Mill Defense League.
The league has been working to have Hunter Mill Road recognized for its historic significance. Having a building of historic significance helps that case, but once a building is moved, it is no longer considered to be historic, for the purposes of preservation. The Schoolhouse helps provide an anchor at the southern end of the road, Bennett said.
While the Oakton United Methodist Church is also historic, the more places with historic significance that are along the corridor, the stronger the argument for recognizing the whole corridor.
Bennett said that ways of keeping the building on site have not been fully explored. Bennett stressed that the league does not favor destroying the house. “If the only option to preserve the school is to move it, then we would support the move,” she said.