The supervisors voted last week to apply for an Industrial Revitalization (IRF) grant from the State Department of Housing and Community Development for planning a renovation of the old Montvale Elementary School. A non-profit, called Montvale School Preservation Foundation, is seeking to renovate and re-purpose the old building and is seeking the grant. However, the county owns the building, so the supervisors had to apply for it.

Three supervisors had problems with the application. It wasn’t the idea of applying for the grant that they didn’t like. They were concerned that the wording of the grant obligated them to go forward with the renovation no matter what the price tag turned out to be. County Attorney Patrick Skelley assured them that the wording did not constitute a legal obligation, but these three voted against is anyway when no modification to the wording was put forward.

It’s good that four of them voted for the application. Regardless of the trio’s concern, they have Skelley’s word that they won’t be obligated and Skelley has demonstrated over the years that he knows what he is talking about.

The old school building has been a prominent part of Montvale’s landscape for decades. The oldest part dates to 1930 and is a historic building. It’s twin is the oldest part of Stewartsville Elementary School, but that building is still in use as a school.

The Preservation Foundation has in mind re-purposing it as a community center. The grant will pay for professional work to help them focus on what it can potentially be and how much that will cost. That way an actual renovation plan can be developed because they will be focused on a use and have some realistic (hopefully) estimates of what this will cost.

Ideally, the renovated and repurposed school will be a partnership between the county and the Preservation Foundation something like the Bedford Museum is. The county will retain ownership and be responsible for major maintenance. The Preservation Foundation will be responsible for operating it, and raising the money to pay for its operation. This way the county won’t be on the hook for running a community center. The supervisors may not even be on the hook for renovating it if grants and private donations can provide all, or most, of the money needed. County staff can negotiate with the Preservation Foundation the nature of their partnership once they have a plan developed.

Re-purposing old buildings like that, which have historic value, seems a much better idea than demolishing them. It’s not obvious what that site would be used for if it were torn down. There are already two industrial parks in Montvale. One has very few tenants and the other has been totally vacant for more than 20 years. Montvale is too far from Roanoke to attract businesses that want to do business in Roanoke, but pay Bedford County taxes. Furthermore, the area doesn’t have the population density to support major retail development. Assisting the Preservation Foundation’s efforts is far better idea for the supervisors than having one more vacant property on their hands.

A community center may be a good idea for the Montvale area. There is nothing like that in that end of the county. It would be nice to have that community center in a building that has a solid historic link with the Montvale community. Generations of that area’s children were educated there and there are still plenty of folks living in the Montvale area who have memories, some probably very fond memories, of their school days there.

By the way, Montvale once had a bank. The building is still there. It’s pretty dilapidated right now. It looks like if it’s not haunted it ought to be. Maybe somebody can come up with a plan, and the money, to renovate and re-purpose that historic old building too.