Twice a week, Spotsylvania County native Mary Catherine Massey plays cards at the same place she went to high school more than 60 years ago.

Her thoughts often drift to those high school days, when she sewed aprons and dresses in home-economics class.

Or when teacher Ms. Morrison propped up the hood of a car to explain the parts to her and other driver’s ed students.

And when she took English class from Ms. Whitehouse, who never raised her voice, even when students spoke out of turn.

“It feels funny sitting there playing cards in the building you went to school in,” Massey, 81, said recently.

She and other seniors often meet in the former Spotsylvania High School, now the Marshall Center, for card games, meals and other activities. But some of them are troubled by a proposal to lease part of the county-owned facility to St. Michael the Archangel High School, a private Catholic school with 115 students.

They do not want to give up the building, and all of its memories, so that the county can make a few bucks. “I don’t know what we would do or where we would go,” said Massey, who lives about 15 minutes away from the Marshall Center on Courthouse Road.

The facility includes an auditorium, public library, gym and county offices.

Hugh Brown, who co-founded St. Michael in 2005, said the school plans to accommodate the senior citizens and any others who use the Marshall Center, calling it the Christian thing to do. He said the school would probably move there next fall if the county signs off on a lease.

“I don’t think we’re looking to displace anyone,” he said. “I think we’re looking to have a collaborative effort.”

Spotsylvania solicited proposals this year from private entities interested in leasing, or even buying, the 78-year-old Marshall Center, which is in need of major renovations. The only offer came from St. Michael, but the specifics of the proposed deal have not been revealed.

The Board of Supervisors plans to hold a public hearing before making any decision on the lease.

The school is also interested in selling its existing 26-acre campus off State Route 3, formerly Regency Sports Park, to the county. Some parents of competitive swimmers have urged Spotsylvania to purchase the property—which includes an Olympic-size pool and several gyms—to increase recreational opportunities. The site’s taxable value is more than $4 million.

Supervisor Greg Cebula, whose Berkeley District includes the Marshall Center, said he agrees with the concerns of the seniors and would not want to relocate their activities to another venue.

“It’d be moving it from a central location,” Cebula said. “We’ve got a good facility there.”

Supervisor Paul Trampe said he’s heard St. Michael wants to share the space with the seniors, but nothing is in writing. He said he plans to vote to authorize a public hearing on the proposed lease, but will not commit to anything beyond that.

“The supervisors haven’t been given enough information either,” Trampe said.

He also said it’s possible the county could buy the current St. Michael site, but that any deal would be separate from the Marshall Center lease.

County Administrator Mark Taylor wrote in an email that the county does not plan to eliminate any of the activities at the Marshall Center, though some could be relocated. The exact area that would be leased has not been finalized, but Taylor did note that “no change to the Snow Library … is contemplated.”

Taylor said the county is considering the lease to help pay for new offices, noting the Department of Social Services is in “dire need” of more space. The county could build a complex for less than half the cost of renovating the Marshall Center to expand office space there, he said.

Taylor said he needs to “pursue more creative strategies to generate revenue” after residents voted against a 2014 bond referendum that would have let the county borrow money for improvements to government facilities. The school has offered to pay what he called a “market-rate rent.”

Brown said the Marshall Center is better suited for a school than St. Michael’s campus, which he said was initially envisioned as an athletic complex for Fredericksburg Christian School. “We would have the ability, I think, to grow,” he said.

He said the lease is still under negotiation.

The center is named in honor of former Spotsylvania Supervisor Emmitt Marshall and his late father, Solon. Marshall recently spoke out against the proposal at a supervisors meeting, saying a lot of long-time residents do not want their old school rented out.

The Marshall Center is not limited to sedentary activities. It also hosts ballroom dancing lessons and pickleball, which is part tennis, part pingpong.

Three times a week, anywhere from six to 22 pickleball players compete at the facility’s gym, where blue paint peels from the cinder-block walls and an industrial fan acts as the air-conditioner. Players, armed with wooden paddles, smack a perforated plastic ball over a net.

Spotsylvania resident Ron Lunardini, 69, launched the pickleball program there four years ago, saying the Marshall Center has since developed a reputation for the highest level of play in the Fredericksburg region. One couple drove from Henrico County to play Wednesday, paying $4 each.

“I think it’s a feather in Spotsy parks and recreation’s cap to think their facility is regarded highly enough that folks would travel for the competition,” Lunardini said.

Brown said the Catholic school’s lease would probably include the gym, but that pickleball players had nothing to worry about. They could “100 percent continue” using the space, he said.

For Massey, the Marshall Center is a reason to leave the house for several hours every Monday and Wednesday. She and a few other old-timers play rummy and talk, whether it be about something in the newspaper or their memories at the old school.

Something always gets them laughing, she said.

“I can go in there and feel down in the dumps, and I come out of there feeling like a different person,” Massey said.

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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