CRANBERRY TWP — One of the township’s two original one-room schoolhouses still standing could be demolished this month as officials said it has become structurally unsafe.
The township is making a last-ditch effort to come up with a suggestion to possibly preserve the Johnston School and its memory, but the odds of saving it are slim.
The Johnston School, located behind Target and the Cranberry Commons mall on Old Mars-Crider Road, is one of the six original one-room schoolhouses that were built in Cranberry Township in the mid-1800s.
The other still standing schoolhouse, the Sample School, was moved from its original location on Rowan Road to in front of the Cranberry Township Municipal Center.
The Cranberry Historical Society, which meticulously restored the similarly-sized Sample School and then supervised its relocation, indicated initial support for the Johnston School’s demolition, according to township officials.
The four other 1800s schoolhouses all met a similar fate now facing the Johnston School.
The Hoehn (Haine) School closed in 1952 and was burned by vandals; Graham School closed in 1952 and was destroyed by fire; Bear Run School closed in 1946 and was torn down; and the Garvin School closed in 1937, and the building was dismantled and used in a home that was built in the township.
According to “Cranberry Township: A History of Our Community,” published in 1991 by the Cranberry Historical Society, the Johnston School was built in 1851 as a successor to an earlier log cabin school that had opened in 1835.
This one-room red brick schoolhouse on Old Mars-Crider Road was closed in 1952 and was used as a private home before being shuttered several decades ago. It could be demolished by the township as soon as this month.
John Trant, Cranberry’s chief strategy officer, said the schoolhouse has been sitting there a long time. “There’s really no great use for it, and it’s become a safety issue,” he said.
The building has been looked at from time to time by various groups to see if there was a way to use it, but no plans ever came to fruition, Trant said.
Fifteen years ago, the red brick structure had been given some exterior preservation work by the developer of the Cranberry Commons shopping center next door.
The work had been intended to stabilize the building in case someone decided to move or restore it. But that never happened, and the structure continued to decline, eventually becoming a safety hazard.
“Probably the only original material left on the building is the brick,” Trant said.
“We would love to have saved it. But, it’s just in so bad condition. It would be fairly expensive to get it into decent shape,” said Roy Wagner, president of the Cranberry Historical Society.
To move the schoolhouse would be a six-figure undertaking, and nobody is sure the building would remain standing in its current condition, he said. The foundation is deteriorated and has begun to shift and the roof needs major repairs.
Wagner said the group had looked at the possibility of moving the building as a Community of the Year project with the Cranberry Township Community Chest.
The plan that was talked about would have moved it to one of the Seneca Valley School District properties in the township for educational use. Wagner said the district initially was interested, but now sees it as unfeasible.
The problem with restoring the schoolhouse at its current location, Wagner said, is that the schoolhouse is in “the middle of nowhere” and has a parking lot that would only fit about five vehicles. The windows are currently boarded up because it’s an easy target of vandalism, he said.
“It’s just so monumental of a task to restore it,” Wagner said.
Wagner said he’d like to come up with a scenario in which the building could be saved, but added, “I don’t see how it could happen.”
The township is taking suggestions concerning possibly saving or the disposition of the building and its materials. “We’re open to any practical ideas or suggestions,” said Trant. The township will take comments for several weeks before deciding whether to go ahead with the demolition.
Those with suggestions and comments can e-mail Trant at: email@example.com.