The historic Douglass Elementary School on Union Street will be getting a new lease on life after the Leesburg Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to rezone the property and include it in the town’s historic district.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors took ownership of the historic property about two years ago. The board has been in discussions with the Loudoun Freedom Center and the Douglass Alumni Association to preserve the building and make it a museum and/or cultural center to honor African American heritage in Loudoun County.
Built in 1880 as the Leesburg Training School and later renamed, Douglass Elementary School was a segregated primary school, and then the Black community’s first high school until it closed in 1958. The property also includes a brick building used as office space for Loudoun County Public Schools’ Child Find Center.
Before the county and nonprofits can turn the property into a museum, though, it had to first be rezoned by the town. The property straddles the historic residential and gateway zoning districts, but staff recommended that the council change the property’s zoning to Government Center with a historic district overlay.
The Government Center zoning designation is a special purpose zoning district for properties throughout the town, designed for buildings with governmental uses. The historic overlay will help protect the school from demolition and impose certain design standards.
At the town’s public hearing, neighbor Eugene Shields spoke in favor of the building’s renovation and use as a museum. “It’s an extremely important building and I’m all for its preservation,” he said.
Council members agreed, quickly passing the four motions needed to rezone the property.
The timeline for updating the building for use as a museum is unknown at this time, but according to town and county staff, the interior of the historic school will need significant renovations.