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Officials scrap plans to restore former schoolhouse in Cranberry

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:14 a.m.
The former Johnston School House, seen here Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, is slated for demolition.The 162-year-old former one-room school house will be torn down because township officials and historical society members couldn't come up with a feasible plan to save the Cranberry structure. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

A daunting price tag demolished plans to renovate an abandoned former schoolhouse in Cranberry, officials say.

The Cranberry Township Historical Society hoped to turn the one-room former Johnston School House on Mars-Crider Road into a museum. But the necessary repairs would have run into six figures with further need for annual maintenance, said society President Roy Wagner.

“We don't want to see it go down, but we don't have a choice in the matter without taking full responsibility for it,” he said on Wednesday. “As much as we'd like to save it, it doesn't seem practical.”

In response to an engineering study and discussions with residents, the historical society board voted unanimously Jan. 8 to not move forward with the project. The township, which owns the 162-year-old building, will begin demolition Jan. 21.

Some of the building's brickwork will be used in the township's Kids Castle playground to be built in Community Park. The park is expected to open in September.

For nearly 40 years after the Southwest Butler School District formed in the early 1950s, the Johnston school house building — one of six one-room schools that operated in Cranberry — was used as a private residence.

The building, located on a small parcel behind the Cranberry Commons shopping center, has been deteriorating since it was abandoned at least 15 years ago, township officials say.

The building's sinking floor would have to come up, and interior drywall would have to come down. Runoff has been weakening the foundation for years, and the building has no gutters. Vandals knocked out the windows years ago, and they are boarded up.

In order to make the building fit for a museum, the society would have to add running water, sewage, heating and air conditioning, furnishings and security. The parking lot only has space for five cars and would need to be expanded, Wagner said.

“We didn't expect the potential revenues operating it as a museum would cover maintenance costs,” Wagner said. “It would require substantial fundraising every year.”

The historical society restored the similarly-sized Sample One-Room School after supervising its relocation from Rowan Road to the front lawn of the Municipal Center in 1999. It is open for tours from May to September and is rented for special occasions.

Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, said a decade ago, the organization considered using the building for its own offices and it required costly repairs even then.

“There is no way to do anything with the building,” Cohen said. “It's unfortunate, but that's what happens. The building has had its day.”

Cohen said he's pleased the building's legacy will live on through the bricks it will supply for the playground.

“It will always be remembered,” he said.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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