Historic structures in Connellsville given new life

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

This is the third of a four-part series on Connellsville's older buildings. Today, new life breathed into historic structures.

Some buildings constructed in the early 20th century are finding new lives in Connellsville.

Two years ago, the former Aaron's building, circa 1906, on the corner of Apple and North Pittsburgh streets, sat empty and was falling down.

City officials watched the building closely during strong windstorms. The structure was cordoned off; people were encouraged to stay away.

The city began making plans for its demolition; $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant monies would be used.

Before that happened, however, former mayor Charles Matthews and members of city council came up with an idea.

They asked area businessman Tuffy Shallenberger to take a look at the building. Could he do anything?

Shallenberger purchased the building for $1 from Connellsville and the city threw in several adjacent empty lots.

Shallenberger's crews are at work. The top two floors have been removed and a new roof has been added. Workers are re-pointing the exterior bricks.

Plans call for rehabilitating the first floor, turning it into a ballroom. The second floor will be developed into conference rooms. The third and fourth floors may become high-end loft apartments.

Former school

Another historic structure has found new life.

Most people today know the building — built in 1916 and located at the corner of Prospect Street and Fairview Avenue — as the Greater Connellsville Area Community Center. But many of the older generation will remember it as the former senior high school.

The community center is continuing to evolve.

The center boasts the Edwin S. Porter Theater, which was renovated over the past several years. In addition, 31 rooms have been set up to house small businesses, areas for the arts and even churches.

According to Gary Barker, property manager, there are only five vacancies, with more groups and businesses interested in filling those spaces.

Councilman Greg Ritch, director of buildings for Connellsville, said the building's rehabilitation, together with the interest for use as a small business incubator, has caused a blossoming at the center.

One of the last sections of the building to be fixed will be the swimming pool, Ritch said. A number of businesses, including those involved in medical rehabilitation, say they want to rent the pool once it is repaired.

Ritch said bids received for the rehabilitation of the pool have been far apart, from a low of about $3,500 to $77,000. “We will have to decide which direction we want to go in,” Ritch said.

The pump will have to be repaired, along with other items.

Some businesses in the building include a thrift store in Room 110, open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Brooke's Block Party, featuring many types of blocks, including Lego blocks, is located in rooms 106 and 107, and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and 4 to 8 p.m. Saturdays.

Owner Brooke Deason offers block parties for birthdays and other events. Some events are BYOB (bring your own blocks).

Liz Jones operates Liz Jones Art Studio in Room 309 several nights a week.

Andrea's Dance Academy, under the direction of Andrea Cayton, is located on the third floor of the center.

One Shot, a wrestling club, is also located on the third floor.

The HObo Model Railroad Club is in the process of moving its HO gauge layout from the third floor to several rooms next to the thrift shop on the first floor. Bill Beatty said the move should be complete and in operation before the Christmas season.

Railroad station to bank

Somerset Trust is working on restoration of the former P&LE Railroad Station on the West Side at the corner of North Seventh Street and West Crawford Avenue.

Plans include renovating the property in a historically sensitive manner. Retail banking services are planned to be offered in the annex building on the site. In the main building, the bank anticipates using the space for professional services such as commercial lending, mortgage specialists, investment services and trust services. Once the building is completed, the bank hopes to have a community room area.

Joseph G. Klocek, with Somerset Bank, said minor demolition work has started in the smaller building.

“Full construction should get under way in the coming weeks,” Klocek said. “Our anticipated opening date is for the September / October timeframe.”

Work has proceeded on replacing the paving bricks and installing a new roof on the annex, which was constructed in the 1990s. Restoration of the station building, built in 1911, will not begin until 2015.

“This is a more complex project due to it being included in the National Register of Historic Places,” Klocek said.

Rebound for mansion?

One building, not strictly a commercial building but sought by several investors for use as a bed and breakfast or for a similar commercial use, is a former mansion at 223 N. Third St. The structure is owned by Rodney Allen. It sits beside the Great Allegheny Passage trail.

Linda Allen, Rodney's wife, said parties interested in buying the property have contacted the Allens. She said the inside has been completely re-plastered and the outside has been sealed to prevent damage from the weather.

Tom Currey, Connellsville's zoning and code enforcement officer and health officer, said Allen's attempt to repair the building is enough to reduce the rate of deterioration by having a temporary roof tacked onto the structure. He added he has no legal need to enter the building to check and could not verify that it is in good shape inside.

Currey said the structure is on the city's watch list, but is not a major concern.

Thursday: Possible solutions to the city's problems.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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