Last effort to save Alexandria's historic Carver Nursery School

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An Alexandria preservation group has launched a last-ditch effort to save a historic African-American landmark from being destroyed.

For two years, the owner of the Carver Nursery School, which was built to educate blacks during World War II, has been trying to sell it to preservationists who in 2010 filed a lawsuit to prevent him from tearing it down.

The two sides reached an agreement that put the schoolhouse, located at 224 N. Fayette St. and vacant since an American Legion post moved out in 2007, on the market for two years in hopes that someone would buy and save it. But no one was interested -- not a single offer was made -- and now the agreement is set to expire next month.

As a result, the owner, developer William Cromley, will be able to demolish the structure and build anything he pleases in its place.

"There's nothing that fond memories can do to save a building; you need cash," Cromley said. "It can't sit there forever."

With the agreement's Feb. 25 deadline looming, members of the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance have banded together in what they're calling an eleventh-hour effort to collect signatures and urge the city to step in.

The group doesn't have the money to buy the building, but group members are hoping the city is willing to step in and save the historic schoolhouse for them, possibly to transform it into a community center or museum.

"I am fighting for this building because I believe it tells a story," said Boyd Walker, the organization's chairman. "From African-American schoolchildren during World War II to the African-American Legionnaires who came home from conflicts abroad, this building represents a history that cannot be replaced."

But Alexandria officials don't appear to be on the same page.

Mayor Bill Euille was quick to recognize the building's historical significance but said the city has to choose among priorities at a time of budget shortfalls.

"The city hasn't owned or operated the building since 1987," Euille said. "We have all sorts of short- and long-term projects and must be responsible and prioritize our needs."

Cromley said he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the building should the agreement's deadline pass without a buyer's offer. He doesn't, however, plan to spend the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" that may be necessary to restore and preserve the building.

"I don't disagree that there were memorable things that happened there," he said. "But you can't have a city that thrives and grows if you [keep everything]."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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