Although they gave it their best shot, Roy Wagner said members of the Cranberry Historical Society were unable to save the decaying 162-year-old Johnston School House in Cranberry from the wrecking ball.
“We don’t want to see the building go down, but we can’t take it on,” he said.
Cranberry originally planned to demolish the one-room building, which has fallen into disrepair, in December unless a better solution was found.
After a detailed engineering study, as well as discussions with residents and members of the historical society, the township found restoring the schoolhouse was not a practical option, officials said.
Located on Mars-Criders Road behind the Target, the Johnston School House has serious structural issues, including sinking floors. Cranberry now considers it a safety hazard.
The red brick building is scheduled to start being taken down Monday, Jan. 21.
Some of the school’s brickwork will be retrieved for use in the township's new Kids Castle playground to be built in Community Park later this year, officials said.
Wagner, who is president of the historical society, said his group examined ways to save the schoolhouse, but was unable to afford the more than $100,000 price tag to restore the building.
“Our vision was to turn it into a museum,” he said. “But it was roughly estimated to be six figures just to get the building straightened out.”
In addition to repairing the structural issues, Wagner said the society would need more funding to add bathrooms, running water, heating and air conditioning to the building.
Other issues with the school included its remote location, which Wagner said presented a security concern for some of the historical society’s elderly members, and limited parking.
“It only holds about five cars comfortably,” Wagner said. “We just couldn’t see how the building would even support its ongoing costs.”
School House History
Built in 1851, the Johnston building was one of six one-room schools in Cranberry. Part of the now defunct Southwest Butler School District (which later became Seneca Valley) the school shut down in the 1950s.
It later was used as private residence and then abandoned. About 15 years ago, the township took ownership of the building and did some exterior work to stabilize it. The school remained empty though, and its decline continued.
Cranberry Supervisor Chairman Bruce Mazzoni, who also is a member of the historical society, had at one time hoped the Johnston School House could be relocated and refurbished, similarly to what had been done with the one-room Sample School House.
That wooden building was moved from Rowan Road to its current location on the front lawn of the Cranberry Township Municipal Center more than a decade ago. It then was painstakingly restored by the historical society.
Renovating the Johnston School House was a potential community project for the Cranberry Township Community Chest, an organization that partners with local nonprofit organizations and civic causes to raise funds for projects, Mazzoni said.
But after speaking to the same company that moved the Sample School House, the township learned it would cost about $100,000 to move the Johnston building. There also were no guarantees the brick schoolhouse wouldn’t fall apart in the move.
Since the decision to tear down the Johnston School House has been made, Wagner said he and the other historical society members were disappointed, but understanding. The group has given the township their reluctant support on the demolition.
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