WINCHESTER, Va. — The former Douglas School at 598 N. Kent Street in downtown Winchester has been renovated and expanded into a 33,221-square-foot facility that is now the school system’s new Central Administrative Office.
Tuesday marked the school system’s official move into the building that educated Black students from the city of Winchester and Frederick and Shenandoah counties from 1927 to 1966. Following integration, the facility went on to house Winchester Intermediate School, Frederick Douglass Elementary School, and several community and educational organizations. It eventually closed in 2016 due to inoperable heating equipment.
That same year, Winchester Public Schools decided to convert the former Douglas School into its new administrative headquarters. Ed Smith, the school system’s director of operations, said on Tuesday it cost approximately $15 million to convert and expand the existing building to accommodate offices and cubicles, board rooms, professional development offices, an early learning center for pre-K children, a satellite office for the Winchester Police Department, and space for community events and organizations.
While work on the former Douglas School has been underway for more than six years, the past few months have been crunch time for the school system’s administrative staff. The 11,340-square-foot Central Administrative Office on Washington Street was sold in June for $1.85 million to a private developer who is currently deciding whether to convert the space into offices or apartments. The sale started a countdown that required Winchester Public Schools to fully vacate its former headquarters by the end of this month.
One of the most critical parts of the move into the former Douglas School occurred over the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, when the school system’s information technology specialists transferred the computer server for all of Winchester Public Schools to the new Central Administrative Office. Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum said on Tuesday morning the switch was successful and all school computers were up and running.
Van Heukelum welcomed his administrative staff to their new home during a brief ceremony in the Douglas School’s original auditorium. “Everything you see here is literally sacred space to our Black community in Winchester,” he said. “They are very proud of what happened in this space back when they were children. … We want to always remember that.”
The new board room is at the heart of the original portion of the Douglas School. Sometime this summer, Smith and Van Heukelum said much of the original building, which is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, will showcase the history of the structure in the form of a museum currently being designed by exhibit specialists Riggs Ward Design of Richmond. There’s already talk of inviting Douglas School alumni to have their annual reunion in their former school building once the museum is complete. If they take advantage of the offer, the alumni may be surprised to see the old blackboards from their childhood classrooms are still hanging on the walls. Hardwood planks from the old school’s gym floor were repurposed during the renovation and now frame the large reception area.
“We really wanted to incorporate part of the old building into the newer area,” said Maggie McCampbell Lien, public information officer for Winchester Public Schools. Van Heukelum said they aren’t sure when a formal grand opening for the community will be held, but it should occur within the next couple of months.
The original Classical Revival building (circa 1927) was designed by architect R. V. Long. As part of the rehabilitation, the 1927 and 1941 portions of the building have been renovated and repurposed. The 1951 and 1961 additions were removed. Winchester-based Howard Shockey & Sons is the project’s general contractor. Design is by CJMW Architecture of Lynchburg.
Source: Read the original story in the Winchester Star by Brian Brehm. Photo by Jeff Taylor/Winchester Star.