Last June, a re-use study was conducted in the town of Crozet to determine the fate of its old elementary school. First built in 1924, the brick schoolhouse was used as a public school until 1990 when a new elementary school opened across the street. The following year, the private Charlottesville Waldorf School leased the facility and continued to occupy it for the next 15 years, but in September 2007 that relationship ended. The county—as the building’s owner—has operated at a loss ever since, spending almost $30,000 annually for routine maintenance and utilities.
“It’s a real drag to have the empty building,” says Mollie Washburne. Along with friend and associate Sharon Tolczyk, she attended the county’s two-and-a-half day re-use study in June 2008 where community members expressed their wish for the abandoned building to be a potential community center as well as the site for some kind of arts instruction.
“Sharon and I have been pulling and tugging at each other all along saying should we give it a try,” says Washburne. On the night of May 5, 2009, she and Tolczyk sat in Lane Auditorium as the county Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider their request to amend a special use permit to allow for the old school building and accompanying grounds to be used for a school for arts instruction—to be run by the two women—that would share space with the Field School, an already existing private middle school for boys.
As it turned out, only one person, a woman named Barbara Westbrook, rose to speak. “I love that old building,” she told the commission, and then stated her preference that it be used for a community center.
“We haven’t written in stone what’s going to be available,” says Tolczyk. “We want the community to be involved with ideas of what they’d like to be offered, that way we see that we’re also addressing this idea of a community center, albeit via the arts right now.”
She and Washburne both have backgrounds in dance, and so different forms of that will be offered, as well as painting, quilting, visual arts, and music. Still, the two maintain Old Crozet School Arts (OCSA) will act as an alternative to what can be currently found in Charlottesville—“What we’re trying to do is offer what’s not already out there,” says Tolczyk—as well as a counter to the sports dominated culture of Western Albemarle.
“We want to create a place where the arts take a much more visible presence in everybody’s lives,” Washburne says. “Even if you’re not participating in it, it becomes the norm that after school, kids go not just to soccer, lacrosse, and basketball, but the arts and to creative thinking locally.”
That idea moved closer to reality when the planning commission approved their special use permit request on May 5. The next day, the Board of Supervisors voted to lease space to the Field School, which is currently located in the Community Building at Crozet Park. The board will hold a public hearing in June about leasing space to the OCSA. Together, the two tenants would provide a gross increase in revenue of $42,710.10 to the county.
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