Donora buys old elementary center
Donora does not have a bank, a grocery store or a gas station.
But it does own a vacant school building.
The borough was the high bidder in a 3 p.m. Tuesday auction of the former Donora High School, which served as an elementary center for 32 years before it closed at the end of the 2010-11 school year.
Tim Durka, borough superintendent of maintenance, submitted the winning bid of $20,000.
In a 5 p.m. auction, former Ringgold school director Chuck Smith, his brother, Bob Smith, and half-brother, Bill Snodgrass were losers in a bidding war with a South Park contractor for the former Monongahela Elementary Center.
Antoinette Paliotta of Carmen Paliotta Contracting bought the building for $65,000.
Sold to Donora!
The only other bid for Donora Elementary Center – $10,000 – was submitted online by Georgeann Miller.
She has purchased 10 closed school buildings in western Pennsylvania and converted them to community centers.
As many as 10 online bidders and five people who attended the auction registered to bid.
When auctioneer Sherman Hostetter Jr. declared the building sold, Donora Councilman Jimmie Coulter exclaimed, “You got it – it stays at home where it belongs.”
The crowd of more than 60 people applauded.
“It made the crowd happy,” Hostetter said.
The purchase comprises the 74,000-square-foot facility and 34 acres of land. The district retained oil, gas and mineral rights.
The sales agreement must be completed by Thursday. It must be settled by Oct. 21.
Before the auction, Coulter said council set a bidding limit, but declined to divulge the amount. He said Donora had been extended a $100,000 line of credit.
Before closing the auction, Hostetter made one last plea for bids.
“That's not much when you realize you're getting 34 acres,” Hostetter said. “Sure, the building needs some work. My job is to get the most I can for the school district.”
“You got your $4,000, go home,” Coulter said of Hostetter's fee.
Coulter restated council's position to hold the onto the building in hopes the composition of the school board will change and new directors will reopen the building.
“You never know, it might be full of kids (one day),” Coulter said.
Coulter said the borough will restore utility service to the building.
Asked about the sale, Ringgold School Board President Mariann Bulko said, “I didn't really care who bought it, just so it was sold and we don't have to worry about it being a liability for the district.”
School directors Bulko, Larry Mauro and Maureen Ott attended the auction, as did former director Chuck Smith.
Many former students toured the building and attended the auction.
While walls inside the school are covered with chipping paint, the Donora building does not have the musty smell that permeates the Monongahela facility.
Verne Klein, a 1956 Donora High School graduate, said he “came back to bring back some memories.”
John Vitalbo lives seven doors down from the school.
He walks the track behind it for exercise.
He was a member of the last high school class there in 1979. His son, Matt, a former Donora Elementary Center student, was with him.
Pete Worhatch, a 1951 Donora High School graduate, said he was sickened to see the old building after remembering what it once was like.
“It brings back memories, especially of the basketball and football games,” Worhatch said. “That's when we had rivalries.”
Mon City auction
The Monongahela Elementary Center building auction was less dramatic but far more profitable for Ringgold.
The 91,000-square-foot building sits on about 10 acres of land.
Although the school has been closed three years ago, its outdoor basketball court has “2014” spray-painted neatly at center court.
Sitting on stairs leading up to the building, Snodgrass began the bidding in competition with Paliotta. The bids slowly rose from $10,000 until they stalled at $60,000.
At one point, Chuck Smith joined the bidding. Trying to coax the Smiths to make one more bid, Hostetter said, “We've been together too long not to go to the altar.”
Chuck Smith bid $61,000.
Paliotta quickly upped the ante to $65,000, causing Chuck Smith to smile and reply, “I don't want it.”
As she signed the sales agreement, Paliotta explained that the site is close to her home and business offices in South Park.
She said her company performs highway and bridge work, especially for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Paliotta said the site is ideal for storage and offices.
Asked about his interest in the building, Chuck Smith offered various stories ranging from politics to jokingly saying he wanted to raise chickens on the site. He said it is a prime piece of real estate.
At one time, Ringgold considered a plan to renovate the buildings for use as middle schools.
The board ultimately decided to pursue construction of a middle school at the Carroll Township site that houses the high school. It would replace Ringgold Middle School – formerly Finley Middle School.
The district expects the new middle school to be ready for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.