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Citizens Discuss Future of Grange, Schoolhouse

Great Falls, Park Authority sound off on uses for historic resources.

Andy Galusha with the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Park Planning Branch, presents information about the master planning process for Riverbend Park at the Grange Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Andy Galusha with the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Park Planning Branch, presents information about the master planning process for Riverbend Park at the Grange Tuesday, Feb. 21. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— The Great Falls Citizens Association’s Long-Range Planning Committee took the next step in creating their Long-Range Plan Monday night, with a public meeting to discuss the future of the Grange and the Forestville Schoolhouse.

The Grange, a public assembly hall built in 1929 and the Forestville Schoolhouse, built in 1889, were both added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Both properties are currently owned and managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

"The Grange in 2000 was part of the General Fund, meaning it was supported by taxpayer dollars," said Sara Baldwin, a deputy director with the Park Authority. The Park Authority needed to make some cuts in 2000, and part of those were related to operational expenses at the Grange. To ensure that we were preserving the historic nature of the building, we moved it to the Park Revenue Fund, meaning that revenue from programs and rentals would support the operations of the facility."

According to the Park Authority, the properties saw a profit of $2,366.67 in 2007 and of $6,198.28 in 2010. In 2008 they operated at a loss of $408.05, in 2009 a loss of $33.07 and 2011 a loss of $4,805.75.

"In 2010 we saw a net profit, due to staff vacancies at that time," Baldwin said. "In 2011, a year that saw a loss, was due to the initiative to increase programming, we realized that you need to invest something to get something back, so in 2011 we really ramped up the number of programs offered here, in hopes that in the years to follow we would find some that were successful."

One of the other goals from the Park Authority for further development for the Grange would be to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the Park Authority, this would include but is not limited to: restroom renovations, exterior access to the lower level, access to the second level and the widening of multiple doorways.

Baldwin estimated the cost for such improvements would cost around $500,000.

Doug Cobb, co-chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee, said he would like to see some sort of ownership given back to the community from the Park Authority.

"I would like to know, if the Park Authority would have the sense to lease us the buildings for say, five years, what kind of requirements they would want from us as a leasee," he said. "I think they could get rid of a liability for the Park Authority. Someone who loves these buildings and has the money to really do something could fill a lot of needs for students, seniors, youth, this building would be used seven days a week, seven or eight hours a day if it was back in community hands."

Baldwin said the "door is open" for discussing such possibilities with the community.

Many community members at the meeting cited the need for a centralized location for the community to gather in Great Falls, and said the Grange and the Forestville Schoolhouse would be perfect.

"Over my 31 years-plus here, I have found that Great Falls lacks cohesiveness. We don’t have a base to meet. We don’t have a place to call ours," said Jorge Adele, owner of Adeler Jewelers in Great Falls. "These are two incredible, beautiful buildings that we have."

Adeler compared Great Falls with McLean, which has a government center and community center, saying Great Falls was lucky to have board space at the local Safeway to post notices, which they do not have any more.

"We need to embellish Great Falls, we need to take pride in Great Falls, we need to start fixing our buildings," he said.

T.R. Cook, president of the Great Falls Optimists said his organization was in the process of determining the need for a possible Youth Center, which could be located at the Grange or the schoolhouse.

"What we’re doing at this point is doing a survey with local schools, businesses and residents to see what is needed for a youth center," he said. "There’s a lot of kids in the area here that could use one."

Kathleen Murphy, president of the Great Falls Historical Society, cited a need for a community space to help store the materials the society has gathered over the years.

"We’re a village with a history. Our history goes back to Lord Fairfax and George Washington, and it descends from there with clear lines of descent and an engrossing and fascinating history," she said. "We can’t even appreciate the richness of our history because we don’t have a space."

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said "it’s been obvious for a long time" that more could be done with the community when it comes to running the Grange and schoolhouse.

"In my opinion, this should be available to the citizens of Great Falls," he said. "It doesn’t fit with the Park Authority’s responsibilities. I would love to see an organization take charge of this facility. We would like to see, if this facility is entrusted to you, that you can pay the costs of maintaining and updating it."

Glen Sjoblom, co-chair of the Long Range Planning committee, said he hoped the meeting would provide the framework of a partnership between Great Falls and the Park Authority.

"My hope is that the community can come together and draft a proposal to the Park Authority and perhaps present it, maybe at a board meeting," he said. "I think something needs to be done, and it will make Great Falls a better place."