The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 12, 2014

Reclassifying an old school | Several uses come to mind for building

The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — Wanted: Forward-thinking individuals with ideas on how to best utilize a soon-to-be-vacant 60,000-square-foot building.

The one-story Conemaugh Valley Elementary School soon will be shuttered because required repairs would be too costly for the district.

Instead, a new $13 million two-story school, built on the footprint of the old East Taylor Elementary School along William Penn Avenue, will welcome pupils this fall.

School directors, township supervisors and members of the community are brainstorming ideas to reuse the 40-year-old Frankstown Road site.

“The community came to the board and asked what was going to happen with the property,” schools Superintendent David Lehman told our Randy Griffith.

One proposed use has already come to light. Don Neisner, a representative of the citizens group made up of concerned neighbors, floated the idea of developing the property into a recreation park. The township already has a long-term lease on the athletic fields at the rear of the property.

Another proposed use, offered by Tim Stiffler of the township’s planning commission, would be to rezone the property for single-family residential use. The land is dual-zoned. The front of the school property is in a commercial zone, and much of the rest is zoned for residential use.

Other ideas that come to mind would be a mini-mall with merchants occupying or sharing space in individual classrooms.

Or how about turning the building into a community center, much like Windber’s. The gymnasium could be used for basketball, volleyball, handball and/or indoor soccer matches. One or several classrooms could be turned into a weight room. Other rooms could be used for crafts and exercise areas.

And perhaps the gym and a room or two could be rented out for birthday parties or other activities.

However, those uses would have to come from a public or private enterprise, because the township is on record as not being able to afford to take over the aging structure.

“The township would need to raise taxes just to keep that building,” Supervisor Kurt Freidhoff said.

Another idea would be to sell the school as a commercial endeavor, much like Conemaugh Township Area School District did with its Jerome primary school.

When Conemaugh Township combined its primary and elementary schools into one, school administrators were left wondering what to do with a vacant, 32,600-square-foot building.

District officials were open to the property finding new life as apartments or offices. But Bill Shroyer, owner of Shroyer Electric, stepped forward with an offer to buy the 51-year-old schoolhouse for light manufacturing.

Conemaugh Township was more than willing to approve its zoning law to classify the school property as light industrial to accommodate Shroyer.

Although nobody to date has shown an interest in purchasing the Frankstown Road property, the district should not rule out such a move. Many business deals have been finalized in the 11th hour and someone could step from the shadows and surprise the Conemaugh Valley directors.