Century-old school still a treasure
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Boy Scout Troop 145 has made the one-room, New Mahoning school house, owned by Mahoning Valley Fire Company, as their new headquarters. Scout members kneel in front while standing behind them are volunteers working to restore the nearly 110-year old structure, l-r, Chris Nothstein, scout leader; Mike Kulick, Rickey Frey, Jay Michalik, Dylan Smith, and Bryan Pollock.
The Mahoning Valley Fire Company got a quick confirmation to what it knew all along.
Township residents aren't ready to let go of a nearly 110-year-old, one-room school house that it owns, even though deterioration is occurring.
Last year the fire company let the public know that either help must be received on restoring the building or it has to be torn down.
Assistant fire chief Jay Michalik, who has taken charge of the disposition of the building, knew there would be some residents in favor of keeping the structure. But the response he got favoring the renovation of it was much greater than he expected.
Contractors volunteered their services, some residents contributed financially, and a Boy Scout troop has opted to relocate and make the old school its headquarters.
Michalik, beaming at the progress already made on the restoration project, remarked, "You'd like to think of it as this is the way the communities were built. It's a compilation of everyone working together. It's heart-warming."
The New Mahoning School, located next to the fire company, was last used in the 1990s for a Boy Scout troop. Michalik was one of the Boy Scouts who used to meet in the building.
It hasn't been used as a classroom since the early 1950s.
The fire company obtained the single-story, wooden structure in the mid 1950s and used it for storage. Mahoning Valley Fire Company had also sponsored the Boy Scout troop.
With deterioration, the major flaw occurred when a support beam rotted from standing water in the basement, causing the main floor to drop more than eight inches.
"The fire company had a difficult decision," Michalik said. "We wanted to preserve the history and honor the heritage of our neighborhood. The practicality is the funding for it. It's not fiscally easy to run a volunteer fire company any more."
Last year, Michalik and other fire company officers took the matter public, noting they might be forced to demolish the old school, especially because of safety concerns.
"Through a tremendous compilation of community support, it looks like it will be restored," Michalik beamed.
Michalik always leaned toward saving the building out of loyalty for a resident who was a teacher and student there, Marian M. Smith.
Upon her passing, Smith appealed for donations to the fire company to maintain the building.
She died May 20, 2009, but before her death wrote:
"It was over a half of century since the one-room schools in Mahoning Township have closed and it is heartbreaking to know that so many generations to come will have no clue as to what a one-room school with eight grades was like. Attending classes in a one- room schoolhouse with eight grades is an experience that someone who has never done can never fully understand.
"The friendships and relationships developed during the years of 1931-1939 in which I attended the New Mahoning School are in a special class of their own. If only some of the schools could have been preserved! It is an era past tha can never be repeated but will live on in my mind and heart forever."
After Michalik's public statement last year on the deteriorating occurring at the school, one of the first contractors to step forward was Mike Kulick of K&M Builders. He enlisted peers from the Carbon Builders Association.
They raised the floor of the school to the proper level and other volunteers cleaned the basement of water and debris.
"Another big part of this was Boy Scout Troop 145," said Michalik.
The Boy Scout troop had been meeting at Station 2 - the former Engine Company 2 building - of the Lehighton Fire Department. They were forced to seek a new meeting location because the building was being converted into a police station.
Boy scout leader Chris Nothstein asked if the school could serve as the new meeting location and scouts assisted with clean-up work.
"They came to us with a very feasible solution," he said. "The people in the community showed they were ready to help and now we have a tenant," referring to the Boy Scouts.
Michalik, Kulick, and firefighter Bryan Pollock climbed the bellfry and rang the school bell. In the basement, they located the original rope for ringing the bell. There is also an original door to the belfry in the basement. The door will be preserved, said Michalik.
"Everybody's been a tremendous help with time and materials and they helped to preserve this school house," Michalik said.
He said one of the main goals is to move the entrance to its original location in front of the building.
Once all restoration occurs, Michalik said he plans to stage a dedication.
"The Mahoning Valley Volunteer Fire Company is proud to be able to preserve our heritage while honoring those who helped us build a great community in which we live," he said. "This project will further enhance our community with the addition of Boy Scout Troop 145 who will make their home in the schoolhouse.
"Please join us in welcoming them, and we want our residents to know that there is a new opportunity for scouting now in Mahoning Valley."