Gary Batz can still remember watching wild animals running through the yard of his childhood home on Watts Branch Parkway. A farm sat beside a yard, and a pine tree grew right outside his bedroom window.
“I remember as a child, (once when) my mother walked into my room, I had the screen out of the window and was about to walk out on a limb,” he said.
Now, both the tree and house are gone.
At about 4:30 a.m. Feb. 21, firefighters were battling a blaze at 175 Watts Branch Parkway in Rockville.
The building is owned by Montgomery County. Germantown-based KHI Services Inc. ran the Karma Academy for Boys, a 13-bed residential treatment facility, at the site until it closed in 2010. Since then, the building has remained vacant, county spokeswoman Donna Bigler said.
Fire and Rescue Services personnel said the building was unoccupied and no one was injured in the blaze, but it appears the building is a total loss. The cause of the fire still was under investigation as of Monday.
Batz, who now lives in Silver Spring, said his parents rented the house when he was 5 years old. Batz, his parents, five sisters and one brother lived in the house from 1963 to 1968 while his parents looked for a house to buy in Rockville, he said.
All of the siblings still live within 15 miles of their former home, Batz said. He and his parents went to see the old house on Friday after hearing it burned down.
“All the kids were kind of heartbroken, because we all had great memories of that house,” he said later on Friday.
Because of the damage from the fire, Batz said, the house looked run down and aged. He said going back to the house reminded him of a lot of “good memories brought up for the wrong reason.”
“It’s about 90 percent burned,” he said.
At the time of the fire, Montgomery County was planning to demolish the house. Last summer, the county asked Rockville’s Historic District Commission to evaluate the property’s historic significance, a required step before demolition can take place, but a staff report found that the house did not meet the criteria for historic designation.
The house is on a five-acre property that belonged to farmer C.C. Veirs in the early part of the 20th century. His daughter and her husband built the minimal traditional-style house in the 1950s. It is now in the Rockshire community of Rockville, with city park land on two sides.
“The structure was in very, very poor condition and had not been maintained well throughout the tenancy of the Karma Academy,” said Greg Ossont, deputy director of the county Department of General Services. “Basically, (it) had just gotten to the degree of wear and tear where it needed significant renovations to make it usable again.”
At one point, pipes broke and flooded the basement, leading to mold and other problems that would require repairs, Ossont said. A study found that the needed repairs would cost more than $100,000, which was more than most nonprofit organizations could afford.
“Quite frankly, it was cost prohibitive,” Ossont said.
Montgomery County’s demolition permit was put on hold at the Historic District Commission level in September, he said, so county staff secured the property as best they could while they waited to get approval to demolish the building.
“We really just wanted to get the nuisance structure out of there so that something like this didn’t happen,” Ossont said.
Ossont said he is not sure what will become of the property in the future, but he hopes to get the neighbors and Rockville officials involved in deciding what to do with it.
“It’s a beautiful little area and has a lot of potential,” Ossont said.
Staff Writer Krista Brick contributed to this report.