In 2007, the Town of Onancock leased the 94-year-old Historic Onancock School to the non-profit Friends of Onancock School for 40 years. Since that time, the old school has been utilized as a community center by several groups and hundreds of people each year. Mayor Russell Jones recently held an informal town hall meeting to discuss the school, mainly what he considers to be the degraded condition.
A main concern for Jones and Onancock officials is the condition of the sprawling roof of the 33,000-square-foot building. An estimate of $500,000 was received a few years ago to make the needed repairs to the roof, as well as upgrades to the heating system.
For those that followed the old school debacle in Cape Charles, the melody surrounding the Onancock School may sound familiar. Where Cape Charles floated about numerous doomsday scenarios, such as it would take millions of dollars to mediate the asbestos situation (of course, not a single particle was ever removed), Mayor Jones also noted Godzilla-like estimates of $5 to $7 million for the building’s restoration.
After relating those figures, Jones then dropped the other shoe—he suggested that Onancock request information from ‘Developers’, who ‘may’ be able to come up with alternative uses, or to use the correct term, an ‘adaptive re-use’ for the old school. While the town attempted to say all the right things, like maintaining open space and continuing to host ‘most’ of the activities, old school refugees in Cape Charles would caution citizens that are in favor of keeping the building public to take these statements with a grain of salt. These same promises were floated to the bewildered townsfolk down on the lower end, such as being able lease the gymnasium in the old high school for local kids to use.
None of this ‘public – private’ gibberish was true of course; a developer is not going to touch an adaptive re-use project unless there are assurances of maximum profit potential. Why would they renovate an entire structure when they are only going to be able to leverage part of it? That doesn’t make good business sense.
While Friends of Onancock School may realize just what this play really is, and that rumors of the old school’s demise are immature, veterans of the old school wars in Cape Charles would recommend that members of the FOS continue to sleep with one eye open.