Cranberry Township Historical Society President and local history buff Roy Wagner said hearts are breaking over the one-room Johnston School House on Mars-Criders Road.
“When you look at it, it’s in so bad of shape that it will be a monumental task financially even just to stabilize it,” he said. “Moving it is out of the question.”
Built in 1851, the red brick building, one of six original schoolhouses in the township, has fallen in to disrepair and has serious structural issues. Wagner said many of the shingles have been blown off the roof. The floor also is sinking in several locations.
Although the developers behind the Cranberry Commons shopping center, which is located adjacent to the school’s property, did some exterior work to stabilize the building about 15 years ago, the building has remained empty—and continues to decline.
“When Cranberry Commons took the property over, they carved it out and gave it to us,” township manager Jerry Andree said. “No one can find a productive use for it.”
The school house, which was occupied by students until the 1950s, now is considered a safety hazard. Cranberry officials are considering razing the building in the near future—unless a better solution is found.
“We need to deal with it,” Andree said. “If we cannot find a productive use for the building, it will be removed.”
Originally, the township had hoped to save it.
Township Supervisor Chairman Bruce Mazzoni, who also is a member of the historical society, said he at one time believed the Johnston School House could be relocated and refurbished, similarly to what had been done with the one-room Sample School House.
That wooden building was moved from Rowan Road to its current location on the front lawn of the Cranberry Township Municipal Center more than a decade ago. It then was painstakingly restored by the historical society.
Renovating the Johnston School House was a potential community project for the Cranberry Township Community Chest, an organization that partners with local nonprofit organizations and civic causes to raise funds for projects, Mazzoni said.
“We would have assumed all costs with it and not the school district,” Mazzoni said.
Then reality set in.
After speaking to the same company that moved the Sample School House, the township learned it would cost about $100,000 to move the Johnston building. There also were no guarantees the brick school house wouldn’t fall apart in the move.
“They didn’t think it could even take the trip, the damage was so intense,” Mazzoni said. “It’s just not a feasible thing. It’s too much of a risk to move it.”
Because of modifications to the building, including when it was private residence, Mazzoni pointed out the school house has lost much of its historical significance. None of the building’s windows are original because of vandalism, Wagner said.
“The building is so close to the road that the windows are easy targets from a moving car, thus all of the windows are boarded up,” he said.
Even if the building was restored—which Mazzoni said would come with a price tag in the six figures—Wagner said the school house would not make a good museum at its present location. The building’s current parking lot holds about five cars, he said.
“The building is off the beaten path, which creates problems attracting visitors and maintaining security,” he said in an email to Patch.
While Wagner said he and other members of the Cranberry Township Historical Society accept the school house likely will be razed, they’re not happy about it. With the historical society’s limited resources, Wagner said the organization is unable to take on the costs of trying to restore the building.
“It kind of makes me sick that it’s coming down,” he said.
But it’s not happening yet. Andree said the township currently is going through the permitting process to get the state's approval to demolish the school.
In the meantime, the township is asking for the public’s suggestions and solutions for the building’s future. Mazzoni also is confident materials from the building could be repurposed in another project.
“We want to exhaust all possibilities with that building," Andree said.
What do you think? Do you have a suggestion or solution for the Johnston School House? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.