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Possible Future for Historic Buildings?

Community members come up with conceptual plan for Grange, schoolhouse.

Community members have come up with a possible concept for better utilization of the Grange.

Community members have come up with a possible concept for better utilization of the Grange. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— Having historic properties such as the Grange and the Forestville Schoolhouse in Great Falls has become a bit of a mixed blessing for the community. On one hand, the properties represent living history, both are in the National Register of Historic Places, and are relics of a different age.

On the other hand, they are under-used and expensive to rent out for community uses, and both buildings are in need of thousands of dollars worth of maintenance, repair and upgrade costs. With that in mind, several Great Falls residents and community members are trying to come up with a way to take ownership of the two buildings.

NEITHER BUILDING is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is required by the Department of Justice, and has been estimated by the Park Authority to cost several hundred thousand dollars.

"Our conceptual idea will be to lease it from the Park Authority," said Michael Vandergrift, senior vice president at Washington First Bank and president of the Great Falls Business Professional Association. "One of the things that we’re talking about is creating an organization, creating by-laws and enter into a lease with the county, and we can put it to the county that they are responsible for making the buildings ADA compliant."

Vandergrift, along with Jorge Adeler of Adeler Jewelers, is searching for organizations who are interested in helping make such a partnership. Their goal is to turn the buildings into a self-sustaining venture financially, run by a nonprofit, that could also offer space and facilities to the community at an affordable cost.

"We know it needs to produce revenue, it needs to sustain," Vandergrift said. "We know that it takes approximately $35 to 40,000 per year for Fairfax County to operate it. It would be the responsibility of a board to make sure we’re generating revenue."

Ideas for revenue include holding weekly Bingo Nights (which cannot be done at the new Great Falls Fire Station), raffles, galas, children’s birthday parties, farmer’s markets and more. Other options mentioned would be making the schoolhouse into a sort of Visitor’s Center for the community.

"This is only going to work if it is a fair representation of all the community interests," Adeler said. "If it’s just a narrow group of people, it’s never going to work. The county won’t like it, the community at large won’t like it."

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The Forestville Schoolhouse has been proposed for a possible Visitor’s Center by a group of Great Falls community members.

"When this concept went out, I got a lot of feedback from people in the community that I had never met who were excited about this opportunity," Vandergrift said. "If we want to raise $150,000 a year, the buildings would have to generate $411 a day. Of that, we’re thinking of three rooms, the top floor of the Grange, bottom floor of the Grange and the schoolhouse, each one would have to generate about $137 per day, $5.71 per hour for an eight hour day."

Glen Sjoblom of the Great Falls Citizens Association and Great Falls Historical Society said the GFCA has also been looking at a solution to this issue.

"The citizens association has been concerned about this issue for a long time, and it finally came into focus as part of our long range planning efforts," he said. "This has been tried before, but we know it was tried when the Park Authority had just put into place its lease program. Since they have put it in 10 years ago, the lease program has not worked, it hasn’t generated the revenue or the use."

OTHER COMMUNITY MEMBERS say they would like to have a place that can be considered the "go to" spot in Great Falls.

"The Grange used to be the center of the town, if something was happening, you’d go by the Grange," said Laura Nichols of Great Falls. "The part I like about this plan is having the organizations serve on the same board as each other, to have all these people coordinating together and always know when something is happening, go to the Grange."