What to do with the Old R.E. Lee High School?

This morning Lauren Fulbright of the Daily News Leader reported that an investment firm is in the process of purchasing the old Robert E. Lee High School and Guardian Angel Catholic Regional School on Churchville Avenue in Staunton. Octagon Partners wants to purchase the facility, and the reported asking price is $1.6 million.

In the past Octagon Partners has purchased historic buildings in Culpeper and Charlottesville and has used these structures for office space, commercial entities, and residential dwelling units.

Personally, I’m excited about this news. I’m a big proponent of reusing existing structures and preserving historic resources (see my posts on the DeJarnette Center and Western State Hospital). It’s always good to see old landmarks preserved and put to good use — especially in a historic town like Staunton.

So, what should the developers do with the old R.E. Lee High School? At first glance, I think that the campus would be perfect for an upscalehotel. The campus is extremely beautiful, it has plenty of large rooms perfect for hotel suites, and it is within a short walk of Staunton’s burgeoning downtown. However, I don’t think that there is much demand for hotels in Staunton, and the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center is the pride-and-joy of the City. The next logical development is either office/residential or just residential. The Old YMCA and the Villages at Staunton are prime examples of successful up-scale condominiums in Staunton, and I think the R. E. Lee High School could be just as successful.

Another question facing the developer is what to do with the large green space in front of the school. The actual school building sits on a hill, and at the base of the hill is a large field that was once used for football and is now used for pickup soccer games. I think the developers should either keep it open to the public (and impromptu soccer games) or turn it into a community garden (either landscape or edible). The success of the local farmer’s market and the new push for local food might make a community garden a major attraction for the renovated site.

Nevertheless, I’ll look forward to see how this project progresses in the future.

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