Though the former Gainesville Elementary School hasn’t been a school for six years it still looks like one from the outside, so much so that a former student wandered in recently for an impromptu tour.

Shawn Landry, co-founder of Quality Business Engineering with Keith Lowry, wants to preserve the old and build on it – literally – by adding two floors above the one-story building. Exterior features will blend with the historical look of the brick building.

The additional floors will rest on an outer exoskeleton steel framework. The original load bearing school walls will no longer bear weight and the roof won’t have to be disturbed.

The new upper floors will be sold as office condominiums. Landry and realtor Connor Leake expect the spaces to be sold to medical professionals primarily. They said there is already interest from prospective buyers.

“So many folks want their own piece of property rather than lease,” said Leake, who’s with Linton Hall Realtors. The availability of small business loans makes buying an office condo rather than leasing an option, he said.

(Leake is also a Haymarket council member. He has recused himself from any discussions and actions involving the QBE project.)

Landry sees the new top floor, which will have open air space, as the ideal site for a restaurant and he’s in discussion with a couple possible occupants.

“There’s such a beautiful view of the mountains” at that height, he said.

QBE took over the building at 14600 John Marshall Highway in 2012. It has offices there. St. Michael’s Academy, Frontier Kitchen, the Mercury Group – a government contractor, and Living Hope Church rent space there.

Landry said they’ve been offered the option of switching from renters to condo owners.

Landry said there should be minimal disruption to occupants once construction work starts – perhaps over a month or two -- though the principal of St. Michael’s expressed concerns about the safety of students during a March 14 meeting of the Haymarket Board of Zoning Appeals.

The board postponed action for a month on a application Landry filed to allow an increase in building height to 45 feet. He was told the town is considering an ordinance change that would negate the need for the variance.

The planning commission and town council will have to approve the ordinance change. Landry hopes that happens but it postpones the start of work on the addition. Condo space on the existing first floor is being marketed for sale now.

“I’m spending money now hoping we’ll be able to resolve this. If the town wants this [historic] asset I think it’ll work with us,” Landry said.

A certificate of appropriateness for the addition was granted by the town’s architectural review board, which reviews plans to alter historic structures. Landry will be returning to the board to show examples of the brick, mortar and window elements that will be used.

The building opened in 1935 as Gainesville Elementary School. Later, it became PACE West School, a special education school.

“When we took over this building, from Day 1 I told town council that I wanted to maximize its business use,” Landry said.

He said that Loveless Porter Architects in Manassas came up with the exoskeleton plan to expand upward rather than out.

The QBE building shares a lot with baseball fields used by youth leagues and an ice cream shop.

Parking spaces will be reconfigured and there will be a single ingress and egress from John Marshall Highway. Another access to the property from Bleight Road will be added.

Landry places the cost of construction at $6 million.

Contact James Ivancic at jivancic@fauquier.com

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