Quad renovation, trail system improvements underway at Workhouse Arts Center

Overhead shot of quad

A drone shot of the Quad before construction began. (Courtesy of Workhouse Arts Center)

The Lorton-based Workhouse Arts Center — a correctional facility turned cultural arts center — has broken ground on two new outdoor construction projects aimed at enhancing visitor comfort and enjoyment.

Last week, contractor F.H. Paschen began renovating the facility’s central Quad — the 82,500 square-foot space at the center of the Workhouse campus. Once the site of large prison buildings and underground supply tunnels, the grassy Quad has no irrigation and has sagged over the years. The goal of the renovation is to make it sturdy and level, with an irrigation system, new walkways and benches, and a concrete floor for the Rizer Pavilion tent, which is used for concerts and special events. According to Workhouse marketing director Frank Pappas, the project is slated to be complete sometime in May, just in time for the throngs who visit for the annual summer Ice Cream Social, Workhouse Fireworks and Workhouse Brewfest.

Rendering of finished Quad

A rendering of the facility’s central Quad. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy of Workhouse Arts Center)

The arts center also will have an improved trail system thanks to Fairfax County’s ongoing efforts to transform a 3,000 linear foot section of crumbling pathway into part of the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail. Once rebuilt, the trail will be used for walking, biking and horseback riding; feature lighting and signage; and provide direct access to nearby Occoquan Regional Park. Construction should be complete toward the end of July, said Pappas, noting that the trail’s upgrade will “bring more people here and make for a better haunt” during the  the Workhouse’s October Madhaunter’s Madhouse.

In coming months, the Workhouse hopes to raise around $500,000 for exhibits and yearlong staffing of the new Lucy Burns Museum, to be housed in the newly renovated administrative office/cell block buildings (2 and 2A). Once devoid of heat, plumbing and electricity, the formerly run-down prison building now is “the nicest building on campus” according to Pappas, and eventually will feature cell-based video projections, artifacts and reenactors, as well as displays about prison history and the suffragists who were incarcerated there. Presently these exhibits are housed in the Workhouse Prison Museum in building 9.

Down the line, the Workhouse aims to convert the former reformatory mess hall (building 1) into an event center and performing arts space, as well as construct a 400-seat theater in building 12. That facility will enable many more people to attend Workhouse performances than the current 100-seat theater.

Ongoing renovations of the Quad will be paid for through a public-private partnership between Fairfax County and the Workhouse, according to Pappas. Cross County Trail improvements are funded through the Fairfax County Park Authority. Meanwhile, more than $2 million to date has been raised exclusively from private donors for the renovation of the buildings housing the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse.

The Workhouse has special parking guidelines in place until Quad renovations are complete. Visitors to buildings 7-10 or the museum (building 9) should park in the north lot, while those accessing the theater or culinary classroom (building 3), or buildings 4, 5, 6 or 16, should park in the south lot.