Susan Apel regularly takes her four children to play on the grounds of the former Criglersville Elementary School in Madison, Virginia. Recently, her kids were upset at the vandalism done to the 1940s school and wanted to “do something about it.” Surfing the Internet, she came across the National Trust’s This Place Matters campaign. Days later, the Madison Eagle featured a story about their efforts to show that “this place still matters.” This is her story…
By Susan Apel
Sitting at the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains and facing the Robinson River, Criglersville Elementary School has been a vital part of our community from when the original school was built on this location in the 1920's until the most recent school building closed in June 2003. That’s when the school board deemed the property surplus and turned it over to the county.
While a few ideas were entertained about using the building as a community center … a satellite building for the local fire and rescue … and an artists' center … these ideas lost momentum due to budget constraints and lack of county administration support.
When the property was turned over to the county and no longer used as a school, it lost its "grandfather clause" for the well and septic. Now the building will have to be brought up to current building codes in order to be used by the public.
No power … no water … broken windows … one upper, one lower elementary playground … a United States map on the asphalt behind the school … today the school looks deserted, abandoned, almost as if something tragic occurred.
Yet, the building beckons to you. It's as if you can still hear the children singing and enjoying their Friday "hoot-a-nannies." You can remember the parking lot and field full of cars for the Criglersville School Harvest Supper. You can hear the laughter from the parent-teacher skits that were put on in the auditorium for the community. This building still breathes life, hope, and unity to all who come.
In spite of the physical condition of the building, I feel a sense of hope and pride in the ideas the building represents: the joy and delight of childhood, neighbors helping neighbors, a time when life was simple and the center of the community was the school.
From the grounds, I look up and see the Blue Ridge Mountains. I look to the left and I see the neighbor's basset hound coming to say hello through the fence. I stop and give the dog a gentle pat on the head and a good morning. I ask if she misses the children who used to play here. I look to my right and I see calves munching grass with their mothers close by.
The question remains -- what will become of Criglersville Elementary School? A group of concerned citizens in Madison, Virginia hope the future for Criglersville Elementary School will be bright.
We are working on several ideas to propose to the local Board of Supervisors: a community center and park, new location for the Boys and Girls Club, and an artists' center. The two biggest challenges facing Criglersville Elementary School are 1) financial resources and 2) local government approval of this endeavor.
We are meeting with experts in the near future who can give us detailed information on what needs to be done with the building, projected expenses, and possible financial resources. Our community clean-up day to work on the outside of the school was a success!
We go boldly forward trusting the future for Criglersville Elementary School will be bright and full of promise. However, we are in the infant stages of this process. Any and all advice from others who have tried to find alternative uses for their school is much appreciated!
Susan Apel is spearheading the effort to encourage reuse of the Criglersville School and hopes to receive ideas and suggestions from others who have found alternative uses for their former schools.
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