Given the option to find out if seven Loudoun County school buildings could qualify for state and national historic registries, a School Board majority said no thanks.
The county was awarded a grant to assess whether seven western Loudoun elementary schools would be eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register.
The county Board of Supervisors asked the School Board to appoint a staff member to sign preliminary paperwork to kick off the process. That request was turned down by the School Board on Tuesday in a 5-3 vote.
The schools that were being considered for the study are Aldie, Banneker, Hamilton, Hillsboro, Lincoln and Waterford elementary schools, as well as the Middleburg Community Charter School. The oldest school building, in Middleburg, was constructed in 1911, and has undergone several renovations and additions. The newest of the seven is the Hillsboro Elementary building, erected in 1966.
Jeff Morse (Dulles), who opposed moving forward with the study, said the historic designation provides “no real value,” and could actually open the door for more locally enforced red tape should the school system want to alter the school buildings.
“What is the significance of us encumbering Loudoun County Public Schools so we may not be able to do what we need to do or we may have to pay to make alterations to a school that we already own?” he said. “We are not losing hidden treasures.”
He was joined by Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), Beth Huck (At Large), Tom Marshall (Leesburg) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) in opposing the study.
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Joy Maloney (Broad Run) were in favor of moving forward with the study. They each said the board should at least find out whether the schools were eligible for the registries, and then return to the dais to decide whether the schools should be added.
“I think it’d be a shame to not find out what the eligibility is. Then we can decide whether it’s worth restricting ourselves on zoning and so forth,” Turgeon said.
“We’re worried that these are historic sites, and whether there’s something worth preserving. It’s worth the risk to find that out,” Maloney added.
DeKenipp went as far to suggest that some board members have a political agenda for not moving forward with the study. “That’s the sense that I get and that upsets me,” he said.
Morse, Hornberger and Sheridan have said in years past the division should consider closing the county’s smallest elementary schools.
In response, Morse said, if there is any political agenda its board members favoring the small schools. “The only thing these seven schools have in common is that they are small schools,” he said. “Most of them, you wouldn’t even know that they have any kind of historic value at all.”
He added that, the school division can show that it values the school buildings by taking care of them, not by a national or state designation.
Asked by Sheridan to weigh in on the matter, Stephen DeVita, the division’s legal counsel, told the board that the designation could come with some risks. “There are some down stream effects that could potentially happen,” he said. Specifically, that it might allow the county or towns to enact ordinances that impose additional zoning requirements.
The school system is somewhat restricted in what it can do to two of its schools, Lincoln and Aldie, which sit within Loudoun County Historic and Cultural Conservation districts. That designation requires the school system to undergo an architectural review by the Loudoun County Historic District Review Committee for all exterior alterations, new construction projects, and demolition.