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Woodlawn School's future uncertain

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Carroll officials ponder possible uses for the aging school after it closes, including a water park, ball field or community center.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

Even aging school buildings have potential reuses, and Carroll officials want to explore possibilities for Woodlawn once educators and students vacate the facility.
If nothing else, Woodlawn School — founded more than 100 years ago — sits on real estate that could provide ballfields or even a water park, believes Sam Dickson, the county's at-large supervisor.

County officials plan to study all possible options, including using portions of the facility for county recreation, adult education and community groups, he said. "My initial thought was the older portion would have to be torn down anyway."
He's referring to the original two-story wood frame building, though there may be structural challenges in other parts of the facility, as well.
Sagging floors and ceilings raise questions about potential reuses for some rooms.
Keeping the sections from the cafeteria to the gym would probably provide the county with enough space to host a variety of activities.
"If we can save a good portion of it, the community can still use it and we can use it, too," Dickson said. "The rec department would love to have their own gym."
Any reuses would have to wait on the completion of Phase III construction by the school system. It's expected to take a couple years to reconfigure Carroll County Intermediate to house sixth though eighth grades and the high school to hold the ninth through 12th grades.
County officials would gather all the information amassed by the school system on Woodlawn's condition, Dickson expects. After that, his idea is to involve the engineering department at Virginia Tech to conduct further studies.
Located near the center of the county, activities at Woodlawn would be convenient for most of the population, he said.
While he'd like to see it go for some recreational activities, Dickson acknowledges that the engineering information may not line up with that idea.
And if the studies were to come back positive, any recreational development would probably happen over time.
"But that doesn't mean we're not looking at other options, too," Dickson said, adding that if anyone has a tract of land near the center of the county, officials would take that under consideration.
County officials have felt tension for years about the site of the current recreation park, near the Interstate 77-U.S. 58 interchange, he noted. The issue has been whether that land could be better used to attract more commercial businesses around the busy intersection.
Meanwhile, the pool has been deemed irreparable. County officials struggled for years over reinvesting money in the current rec park or starting a new one somewhere else.
"I think it's time we stay there and do something or get out," Dickson said. "With the opening up of the Woodlawn land, that gives us an option — now we have two places to look at.
"Really, I could be happy with either one, we just need to do something... 'cause why are we sending our citizens to Randolph Park?" he added, referring to a recreational facility in Dublin that also has a water park.
Carroll's current recreation park has nice ball fields, but vehicle parking isn't great and the fields aren't very accessible, he said.
"Right now, we just need to do a low cost study of what's available and decide," Dickson said. "It may be we want to keep those fields."
Then, there's the possibility of enhancing recreation by adding new fields at Woodlawn, he said. Plus, educators have plans to put in new ballfields at both the intermediate and high schools as part of the improvements there.
When it comes to disposing of abandoned school properties, Carroll has a mixed record, Dickson added. While old school in Lambsburg has become a thriving community center, for example, the old Dugspur school molders as a storage facility — that's not a benefit to the community.
"I would hope it wouldn't turn into a Dugspur," Dickson said about Woodlawn.
County officials will work to assess all options for the "ultimate usage" of Woodlawn school, Supervisors' Chairman Wes Hurst agreed. Citizens must be involved in that decision-making process.
"I see that we have several options in theory but until we have data to back up what is wanted, needed and which part of the facility can be kept or not, it is a difficult task to complete but with excellent planning we can make better decisions," the chairman said in an e-mail to The Gazette. "All of the future plans would have to have a good solid cost estimate for each option before we could move forward."
The supervisors just adopted a new set of county board goals, two of which involve recreation and Woodlawn's reuse.
Supervisors made it a goal to improve recreational opportunities to provide citizens with a high quality of life, Hurst noted. And supervisors have made it a goal to coordinate with the Carroll School Board on Phase III construction.
That puts the question of what to do with Woodlawn near the top of the goals list, he said. "We, as the board of supervisors, are spending time, energy and effort to be thinking long and hard about what to do with the facilities and the future use to benefit the county the most."