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Don't demolish city's heritage

| Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009

You don't have to be an architect to appreciate the beauty in Connellsville's great buildings.

It would appear that Connellsville in recent months has become host to an alarming trend in condemnations. It is nearly impossible to walk along Crawford Avenue or Pittsburgh Street or over on the West Side and not notice the flurry of white "Condemned" notices affixed to the doors of an increasingly large number of buildings.

As someone who grew up in Connellsville, it is troubling to see the familiar buildings and places that compose my city unceremoniously slated for the trash heap. But this is not something new.

I watched the demolition of the Troutman's Building. I watched the demolition of buildings that were the victims of a serial arsonist. I watch now as our city condemns buildings without regard to historical importance, architectural significance, or the role that they play by simply existing in our community.

I understand the necessity of enforcing building codes, fire codes, health codes, etc. After all, the city's laws are in effect to ensure the safety of our citizens. I applaud the city's efforts to enforce codes and to crack down on code violations. But at the same time, it disturbs me to see the caliber of buildings being condemned and potentially lost forever.

I understand that not every old building deserves to be saved. However, a large number of condemned buildings in Connellsville absolutely do deserve to be preserved for the future.

I have found the most shocking condemnation to be that of a 19th-century Italianate cottage situated on North Third Street on the West Side. The building is easily one of the oldest, most complete and most architecturally significant houses in the entire city. Yet neglect has prompted the city to condemn it. I urge everyone to go see it before it's gone for good.

You don't have to be an architect to appreciate the beauty in Connellsville's great buildings.

I, personally, have spoken with a fair number of residents, and the general consensus is that the citizens of Connellsville love their city. They want to see something -- anything -- happen in their town besides demolition.

Yes, Connellsville's downtown is populated by vacant buildings and vacant lots. But unless something is done soon, Crawford Avenue is destined to become one, giant parking lot. It is time that the administration understands the importance of our city's architectural assets. Other small towns of Southwestern Pennsylvania have enacted preservation ordinances with great success. I question why we continually sell Connellsville short.

Fayette County is considering a preservation ordinance that would apply to a large portion of the county. But, unfortunately, Connellsville is not included.

This fall, if I could tell the new administration one thing, it would be: Old buildings are going to be key to the revitalization of Connellsville. Connellsville's old buildings make Connellsville what it is. They serve as familiar landmarks and give a sense of place to our city.

With rising costs for gas, we can't always afford to drive to the store to get our everyday essentials. I cannot understand why we don't just use the buildings we already have. Perhaps I am oversimplifying things, but I firmly believe we must stop looking at our old buildings as liabilities and start looking at them as the assets we need to create a better, stronger Connellsville.

Five years ago, I left Connellsville for Pittsburgh and, later, for New York City, where I am a graduate student. I returned this summer and intend to return permanently after receiving my degree because I see enormous potential in my hometown. And I know my fellow Connellsvillians do too.

Organizations such as the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh have also expressed great interest in the Connellsville region as potential sites for preservation work with young people.

Connellsville is at an important juncture. It can continue to demolish its architectural legacy or it can use what has been left to create something truly great.

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