Jay Michalik, assistant fire chief in Mahoning Township, didn't want to see the old, one-room school house next to the fire company razed. But it seemed there was little choice.
The school, probably at least 110 years old, is owned by the fire company and was in bad shape. Among other woes, there was water in the basement which caused a wooden support beam to rot, which resulted in most of the floor dropping about eight inches, obviously making it unsafe.
Michalik admits that leveling the single-story, wooden building would have been sad. He has fond memories of the building from attended Boy Scout meetings here several decades ago. Some of his friends, including fire company members, had attended school there.
He appealed for direction from the public. Had there not been a favorable response, the school building would probably be gone by now. As the owner, the fire company has liability concerns as well as its own financial obligations.
"The fire company had a difficult decision," he explained. "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."
The response from citizens not only in Mahoning, but in the surrounding area too, proved awesome. Mike Kulick, a professional contractor, jumped on board and enlisted assistance from the Carbon Builders' Association. They replaced the deteriorated beam and fixed the sunken floor.
Volunteers, including members of the fire company, cleared the debris from the basement. The basement water problem was corrected. Other repairs were made.
Then Boy Scout Troop 145 of Lehighton asked if they could relocate to the building. "Once again Mahoning Township has its own Boy Scout Troop," Michalik said, noting the troop to which he had belonged had disbanded years ago.
Troop 145 was located at the Station 2 building of the Lehighton Fire Department. Station 2 is being converted into a police department, which had left the Boy Scout unit homeless. The scouts were happy to find the school house available.
Michalik had another personal reason for wanting to preserve the building. He was a friend of the late Marian M. Smith, who attended classes at the school and was a teacher. Smith died May 20, 2009 and created a fund to try to save the school.
The assistant fire chief, who besides committing many, many hours to the building project also spends much of his little free time helping the fire company, is pleased with the initial response to the school house project.
He also realizes there is still a lot of work to be done. He's optimistic that work will be accomplished, especially because there is a tenant - the Boys Scouts - in the building.
It's commendable the effort Michalik and other members of the fire company have put forth to save the old school building. It's also heart-warming to see the response from the community.
Hopefully, the building is restored, not only as an emblem of the township's historic past, but as a testament of how the people in the township rallied for a great cause.
By RON GOWER