By Kelsie McCrae
Next month marks a full year since the historic Ashburn Colored School was spray painted with hateful messages.
The donations and support that poured in after news of the vandalism spread only accelerated the restoration efforts that were already quietly underway at the schoolhouse. Loudoun School for the Gifted bought the property in 2014 and set out to raise money to repair the one-room schoolhouse and reopen it as a “living museum.”
Now, three years later, the teachers, students and builders who have become partners in the restoration effort will unveil their work to the public Saturday, Sept. 16. The event will begin with an interfaith prayer service from 9 to 9:45 a.m. followed by a dedication ceremony from 10 to 11:30 a.m. It will be held on the schoolhouse property at 20579 Ashburn Road.
“This ceremony will be an opportunity to honor the students, teachers, parents and church community members whose resilience and vision ensured our community’s African-American children would have access to education during segregation” said Loudoun School for the Gifted English teacher Deborah March. “The school building is a testament to the power of ordinary people working together to build a more just and hopeful world for the next generation.”
The work to restore the schoolhouse, which served Loudoun’s black students from 1892 to the late 1950s, began as a student-led project in early 2015. They interviewed men and women who spent their formative years in the one-room schoolhouse, and they researched the history of education in Loudoun County and what part this simple, wooden-framed building played. They also held fundraisers, but their efforts yielded just a few thousand dollars, far from their $100,000 goal.
But within a few weeks after the schoolhouse was tagged with graffiti, they’d reached that goal with a surge in community support. It’s helped push the project forward. Within the past six months, the structure’s rotting floorboards and siding has been replaced and the foundation has been restored. The restoration work also includes reinforcing the existing studs with pressure-treated wood and repairing electrical wiring to return power to the three simple bulbs that dangle from the ceiling.
Deep Sran, founder of the Loudoun School for the Gifted who is leading the restoration effort, said he doesn’t want to install more lighting, or even insulation or heat, because the building would not have had that when it closed in the ’50s.
“The interior was completely stripped, new footers were installed for the foundation, and drywall was installed. Plaster was added over the drywall to ensure that the cosmetic appearance was as close the original as possible,” said Sharon Knipmeyer, a faculty member. “The electricity was rewired, the chimney and interior chimney were rebuilt, as well as some exterior work.”
A new door and historical marker were also added, and can be seen clearly from Ashburn Road.
Knipmeyer gave a special thanks to Jeff Lagana of J.H. Lagana Floor Service. The company completed most of the interior renovations. “Because of the materials originally used to construct the building, the work would have been risky for the students to undertake,” she said. “Lagana served as the general contractor for the project and was a great help.”
After the dedication ceremony, planning will begin on the next phase of the project. What was originally intended to be a small exhibit inside the schoolhouse will now be a full museum or community center—the exact title to be decided—housed in a separate building on the property.
“Our hope is to involve graduate students and experts in the field to share their knowledge with our students, and with the public in general, through the museum,” March said.
The property will eventually serve as Loudoun School for the Gifted’s campus. Construction of a new, state-of-the-art 14,000-square-feet school building with room for 130 middle and high school students is planned for the near future. Since the private school started in 2008, it has been housed in the Cape Court office park off of Loudoun County Parkway.
When it’s all said and done, Sran said, the campus will represent a historic timeline of education in Loudoun County.
Kelsie McCrae is a summer intern with Loudoun Now. She’s studying English literature, leadership studies and business administration at Christopher Newport University. She is an alumna of Loudoun School for the Gifted in Ashburn.