Great Falls wants to bring the Great Falls Grange Complex back to the community. In a public town hall meeting held Tuesday, April 24, at the Great Falls Library, local movers and shakers from 11 community organizations convened to hear about the efforts being conducted between Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Grange Foundation regarding the historical Grange buildings (located at 9818 Georgetown Pike).
Back in the 1970s and before, the Grange, built in 1929, was used for community gatherings, plays, and concerts, but when faced with the expense of making it ADA compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act), they turned it over to the Fairfax County Park Authority to manage. Now they want to bring it back to Great Falls to create a “heart center” or “social anchor” where they could have arts, music, entertainment, fairs, and civic activities.
At the meeting, Board member Gary Pan gave a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the history and uses of the Grange and the next steps forward. He said they want to re-establish the Grange complex, which was placed in National Register of Historic Places in 2004, as the epicenter for the community. “This could be an asset the entire community could take advantage of and contribute to,” he said.
“Our goal is to be a self-supporting concept; to provide the community of Great Falls with a venue for community organizations to meet, school events, performances, cultural performances, artistic exhibits, social activities—the things we would love to continue to have as a small-town feel, said Pan.
JORGE ADELER, of Adeler Jewelers, who is spearheading the project, added: “This is something we have been dreaming of for a long time. This meeting is a culmination of six years of intense debate and conversation and trying to find all the people who represent the core groups of the community, as many as we could bring in. And finally, this meeting has involved 11 groups that represents almost every aspect of society in Great Falls.”
He added: “This vision of the Grange will force us to interact, force us to know each other, it’s going to give us a sense that we’re working together for something that we’ll all benefit from. …This project is six years in the making but It’s worth the effort. We all can make Great Falls something better just because we are doing what we are doing tonight.”
The board members on the Great Falls Grange Foundation who are leading the charge include: Jorge Adeler; Gary Pan with the Rotary; Linda Thompson with the Optimists; Jan Schar with the Historical Society; Dean Souleles with the Great Falls Studio Arts; and Steve Dulaney with the Business and Professional Association.
According to Dulaney: “Jorge Adeler is our visionary. He started this six years ago. Jorge had a passion and he never lost sight of that. He’s always been the driver. Jorge is always dreaming of the possibilities where community, business and civic organizations can meet and get together to work hand in hand. This is an opportunity truly to partner with the Fairfax County Park Authority.”
Phil Pifer of the Great Falls Citizens Association offered some advice: “One thing we can do is make [the Grange] a community resource; if we have a community resource it becomes a bit of an anchor to draw citizens of Great Falls together and make it a tight-knit community that draws the fabric of the whole town together. We don’t have those anchors really. We have little communities that do things but nothing that brings people together.”
He added: “The GFCA alone, the Great Falls Historical Society alone or Jorge Adeler alone can’t do it. It takes the whole citizenry and all the ideas and resources of the organization. It isn’t about money. It’s about ideas, direction and strategy and what we want this to be. That’s where the collective input of all our organizations is so essential to making this work.”
In his PowerPoint, Pan defined the Grange complex as more than just the one Grange building. It includes the Forestville Schoolhouse (built in 1889), the Pavilion, the grounds, and parking area but not the picnic pavilion, playground or soccer/softball fields.
Pan outlined the vision statement of the Great Falls Grange Foundation, which is to be organized and operated for cultural, artistic, charitable, literary or educational and other purposes as a nonprofit organization; to manage and operate the Great Falls Grange Hall and Forestville Schoolhouse buildings and related lands.
Pan said they want to have the community organizations behind them to make the Grange vibrant, with high visibility and drive it to be more successful.
SOME OF THE ORGANIZATIONS already on board include: the Great Falls Business and Professional Association; Great Falls Citizens Association; Great Falls Historical Society; Great Falls Optimists Foundation; Great Falls Studio; and Great Falls Rotary. Some of supporting members include: Amadeus Concerts, Arts of Great Falls, Great Falls Freedom Memorial; Great Falls Friends and Neighbors; Great Falls Garden Club; Great Falls Library; Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department; Neighbors Network; and Trailblazers.
Pan said they’ve been meeting with the county, which had been operating the complex, over the conversion plans. “We want to make sure we know what revenue responsibilities are; the expenses, and the maintenance involved. To ultimately try to figure out what the county will be responsible for and what we’re responsible for,” he said.
Pan said they’re planning a Town Hall meeting with Supervisor Foust this month, May 2018. They will also do a formal online survey of the community; and are going to determine the roles and responsibilities of the Park Authority and Great Falls Grange Foundation. They will also build a prospectus business plan; make presentations to the Board; draft a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the Park Authority, and if they agree, they would be able to ratify that. The switch-over date is proposed for Jan. 1, 2019.
“We have a six-month window where we’re doing discovery, analysis, research and digesting things and coming up with a ‘Go or No Go,’ [by October] then after that we’re looking at a two-year trial period,” said Pan.
The way the community can help is to provide suggestions for the Grange’s use (email: GreatFallsGrange@gmail.com); ask questions; encourage other citizens to get involved, help create buzz and interest; and invite them to share with other organizations.
Eric Knudsen, who gave a status of negotiations with the county, said this is the first time the county has participated in this kind of partnership. “They’re working with us and they think if they get this [the conversion] done, and establish the criteria, they feel like they can do this with other organizations, other communities.”