Is Sperryville next in line to lose its post office?
The U.S. Postal Service says the decision is final to move the Washington Post Office into a new 3,000 square foot facility to be built two miles south of the county seat on Bank Road, just across from Union Bank & Trust.
North Carolina based USPS real estate specialist Rick Hancock told the Rappahannock News that a decision previously announced Sept. 1 by USPS Northern Virginia District Manager Jeffrey Becker to move to Bank Road will stand.
“I was shocked to hear that the USPS made the decision to relocate,” Washington Mayor Fred Catlin said this week. “The Postal Service representative [Hancock] came to a Town Council meeting a year ago and specifically asked for public feedback. The overwhelming response he received that night was to keep the post office in town. The attendees who spoke represented both the town and the county.
“That was the only opportunity for the public to register its wishes with the Postal Service,” the mayor added. “Yet, the USPS is moving the post office out of town. I know I speak for others in the town and the county when I say that we will continue to engage the Postal Service in a dialogue until they are willing to listen to the voices of local residents.”
Hancock said the decision to relocate had been “put on hold” for two months to allow “for due diligence” of a last-ditch effort by Washington town officials to keep the post office in the county seat, where it’s been located for 215 years.
Now it’s official that a new post office will be built off Highway 211 on what is “Lot 5 of the Rappahannock Commons Professional Center,” two miles from Washington and four miles from Sperryville. The property is owned by longtime Harris Hollow resident Jimmy DeBergh, a sixth-generation Rappahannock resident.
“If it’s got to be out of the town we are glad we got it,” DeBergh told the News. He was notified by the USPS last Wednesday that the agency had selected his commercially-zoned site, in a section of Rappahannock County previously designated by the county for future development.
The Bank Road site, which presently consists of three undeveloped lots on 12 acres, is equipped with internet, phone and other infrastructure installed underground. All three lots have paved access and are said to be approved for well and septic systems.
As an aside, two additional businesses are said to be interested in building at the commons. The lots are on each side of Bank Road, which connects the four lanes of Routes 211/522 and Route 636 School House Road, where the Rappahannock County Elementary School is located.
Out of respect for all parties, DeBergh said he “laid low” during the USPS site selection process — which “had a lot of oxygen” — and he stressed he would have “felt fine” if the post office ultimately remained in the county seat.
“My grandmother was postmistress in the fifties,” DeBergh observed. “I used to walk to the post office and get the mail and walk back to Harris Hollow — shooting rabbits along the way.”
He acknowledged being surprised last year when Hancock informed him the Bank Road site suddenly suited USPS requirements, as Hancock previously commented during his on-site inspection “this is probably a waste of your time. We want something in town that is an existing structure, so you have two strikes against you.”
DeBergh said his agreement with the USPS calls for him to build “the shell” or exterior of the post office, and then postal contractors will complete the rest. “They have their own crews and contractors who come in and do the guts — put in the boxes, the drawers, the bathrooms. We don’t even frame the walls,” he noted.
DeBergh said his preference is the post office be constructed of “brick,” to complement the adjacent bank building and the county’s colonial history. Steve Ellis of Amissville will be his contractor, DeBergh said.
“We’re going to make this look as nice as we can,” he assured, understanding that the county and public will likely weigh in on final designs and specifications, as well as existing concerns surrounding highway safety and increased congestion around the elementary school.
Hancock said because of the previous project delay “no timeline” is set for construction. “We’re working on it, and I could give you a ballpark date, but I’d rather not. That’s one of those horse-cart type things,” he said. “Maintaining a post office operation [in the interim], that’s the most important thing.”
Becker wrote as much in his decision, saying postal operations will “continue at the existing location until the new facility is open and fully functional. Delivery service will not be impacted.”
The USPS earlier told the News that daily mail delivery would not begin in the town even though it’s losing its post office.
“There are no changes in the current modes of delivery for Rappahannock County residents,” said Freda Sauter, a USPS corporate communications official. She stressed the new highway location “provides easy access for our customers.”
Also, there are no immediate plans to merge the new Bank Road post office with the Sperryville Post Office, although that suggestion was presented to Hancock by Washington Postmaster Tina Brooks.
“I think combining Sperryville and Washington would be a smart move because Sperryville is very expensive to operate,” Brooks wrote in August 2017, “but I know all about the political implications that come with that move.”
Commented Mayor Catlin this week: “People have expressed to me the fear that if the Post Office moves to a location two miles closer to Sperryville, it won’t be long before the Postal Service comes back to us and dictates that they are consolidating operations and closing the Sperryville post office altogether. Are we to lose service in both communities?”
Brooks made it known from the beginning that the Washington Post Office had outgrown its current Main Street location, telling Hancock there was “very little room for customers. I get complaints about parking every day. I have even lost customers. I myself was parking at the church lot in front of the building until my car got keyed.”