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Once sold and lost, where will Frederick County find 23 acres of strategically located land with existing sewer, water, and parking? 

Frederick County had sought bids for the old Robert E. Aylor Middle School near Stephens City, where students were educated until its closure in 2021.  The 107,000-square-foot building sits on a 23-acre property at 901 Aylor Road.  It is being sold “as is, together with all improvements, appurtenances, and rights of way belonging thereto,” according to a request for proposals issued by the County on April 19, 2023.  The pre-bid site visits were scheduled for 10:00 a.m. until noon on May 3 and May 10.  Bids were to be made through June 2 at 2:00 p.m.

The Stephens City Town Council did not believe that a competitive bid could be provided, so no bid was submitted during the six-week time frame.  No bids were received by Frederick County by the June 2 date because the RFP stated no sale would occur without a deed restriction, citing that there could be no residential uses of the land.  It is not clear that this is a legal way to rezone the property to restrict residential use.

The old Aylor Middle School at 901 Aylor Road, Stephens City, educated students from 1969 to 2021. Photos courtesy Mark Gunderman

 

The old Aylor Middle School has spacious football, baseball, and soccer fields and outdoor basketball courts.

Frederick County extended the bid due date through June 16.  Stephens City was not made aware of the June 16 due date extension granted because the County only informed those entities who showed an initial interest during the pre-bid process.  By the time the town personnel became aware of the extension in July, a bid was quickly put together, approved by the Town Council at the first available meeting on August 8, and a $400,000 bid was hand-delivered to the County Office.  Apparently, the town’s bid was dismissed.  For property sales or exchanges between local governments, state law does not require that they bid as private owners would do.

A Winchester Star article, “Supervisors accept $300,000 bid for old Aylor property,” dated August 11, cites, “After a two-hour marathon of a public hearing Wednesday night, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors accepted Eukarya Christian Academy’s $300,000 bid for the former Robert E. Aylor Middle School.  The lone bid for the 23-acre property came from RCS Investments, a company whose owners have publicly stated their intention to convey the property to the private, nondenominational Christian school currently located on Valley Pike near Stephens City.”  The article made no mention of the Town of Stephens City bid, although County administrative officials were aware of the higher offer.

On August 9, the County Supervisors accepted the RCS $300,000 bid by a 6-1 vote, with those in support being Chairman Charles DeHaven, Judith McCann Slaughter (Stonewall), Josh Ludwig (Shawnee), Shawn Graber (Back Creek), Heather Lockridge (Gainesboro) and Blaine Dunn (Red Bud).

Supervisor Bob Wells (Opequon) served as the lone dissenter.  He understands the property’s appraised value falls between $2.9 million to $3.5 million.  Mr. Wells does not think the sale of this very valuable asset for a price well below appraised value is a sound business decision.  He believes the old Aylor Middle School could be repurposed and made into office space for the future needs of the County.  The residents of Stephens City could be solicited for ideas to identify collaborative community enrichment opportunities while remaining public property.  Reuse of the property would avoid costly site work, land acquisition, utilities, and stormwater management efforts.

Since a purchase agreement for the Old Stephens City Elementary School between Frederick County and Stephens City was finalized in October 2012, one might think the County would reach out to the Town to see if they would be interested in purchasing the old Aylor School property.  The Grantee of this historic Main Street school property was to use or permit the use solely for such public or community non-commercial purposes as are intended for the benefit of the health, safety, welfare, education, recreation, cultural enlightenment, literacy, or civic awareness of the community, or any other public purpose permitted by law.

Plans for the renovation of the old elementary school at 5516 Main Street include a Town Council meeting room, staff offices, police department offices, a town history museum, and a community center.  Why not do the same again with the old Aylor School property?

At the Board of Supervisors public hearing on Wednesday, August 9, Stephens City Town Council members spoke on the possibilities for the Stephens City area to repurpose this strategic property.  They wanted the County to hold onto the property for tax-payer public future use.

If the Town of Stephens City had been awarded the bid and purchased the property, the Town Council would seek to partner with departments within the Stephens City area to add much-needed space for public services.  The Town would meet with pertinent stakeholders to explore opportunities for re-use based on community desires and concerns.  Re-use could include, but not be limited to, parks and recreation, food pantry and homeless shelter offices, a satellite office for the Sheriff’s department, and state police.

The site could be utilized for various types of recreation or social service activities, such as a gymnasium to support full-day summer camp programs or a daycare center to support single and dual-working parents.  The site includes spacious athletic fields for football, baseball, and outdoor basketball courts, greenspace, and abundant parking.  The City of Winchester has these types of programs, while the South Frederick County area does not.

The Town would work with non-profits that require temporary space to provide essential services to offset government expenditures.  The Boy Scout Troops and Cub Scout Packs could stage their Scouting for Food drop-off programs here, and the Marine Corps Toys for Tots programs might use this building as a drop-off location.

Stephens City Council Members are continuously grappling with community matters. Their engagement and commitment to communicate is clear.  Especially for exploring development opportunities, the Council is firmly rooted in its goal of uplifting the South County area community.

The old Aylor Middle School acreage should not be designated surplus property and offered to a private entity.  Frederick County should endeavor to retain this property for public service.  Once sold and lost, where will the County find 23 acres of strategically located land with existing sewer, water, and parking?  The Frederick County Board of Supervisors should be good stewards of property purchased with our tax dollars. The County could and should have held onto this valuable tax-payer asset for future multipurpose use.

Frederick County should set aside the sale and re-open the process after it rezones the property to remove the residential component.

Mark Gunderman is a Stephens City resident, Vice President of Autumn Glen HOA, and a member of the Newtown Heritage Festival Committee.

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