CENTREVILLE, Md. (AP) — A shooting range and a weapons closet aren’t on the wish lists of many schools. Nor is having to remediate asbestos.

But Head of School Chrissy Aull and her counterparts at Wye River Upper School are seeing beyond these facets of Centreville’s 1926 armory building to the permanent home it can be for their students.

An independent school that focuses on helping 9th- to 12th-graders who have ADHD, dyslexia and other learning challenges, WRUS currently rents space at Chesapeake College and purchased the armory in November for about $475,000.

In addition to providing a training locale for National Guardsmen, the armory once also played host to graduation ceremonies, sock hops and, according to a local historian, even boxing matches.

The building went into private hands and out of public use, remaining largely unrenovated. Numerous features still attest to its former life.

Mimeographed lists of how Guard members should organize their military supplies remain posted on the metal doors of rusting lockers, bullet marks pepper a wall in the basement shooting range, and plaster crumbles against the brick walls.

But Aull and company also see opportunity in the space: a huge garage they hope to convert to a music and photography studio, basement and second floor space for classrooms and an old-school stage that has captured the imagination of the school’s theater director.

A million-dollar gift from a donor who prefers not to be named helped the school conquer its first major hurdle, purchasing the property for $475,000 cash.

By the end of the month, students were on site, stripping away the layers of ivy that had encroached on the building’s walls and giving the grounds a cleanup.

Torchio Architects helped marshal the project through preliminary approval by the town and will manage the project, while Tom Seip will oversee fundraising.

On March 14, the building displayed a new banner and slogan — “Building Great Minds. Saving Great Spaces” — for the campaign to raise the rest of the $4.5 million needed for the project.

Aull says they want to preserve what they can. While asbestos is believed to lurk in the adhesive used to affix old floor tiles that remain, Aull says she hopes they can rescue many of the wood floors.

Aull says they also hope to keep the vintage lighting housed beneath the stage, a huge brick fireplace and even a couple of the old lockers for historical reference.

Asbestos abatement is next on the school’s to-do list. “All the tile has to come up,” Aull says. “That will clear the way for us to bring in other people” and show them around.

With another $700,000, Aull says they’ll have raised half of the project’s total estimated cost and “then we’ll feel we have enough cash on hand to start on the renovation.

“We’re hoping we can move in in September 2012,” she said.

The Star Democrat of Easton
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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