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Saving the Pleasant Street School

Ron These articles were first printed in Reflections
by Ron Wischhusen '72'

Pleasant Street School


Saving the Pleasant Street School

Though it is news to some, many of you have heard rumblings that the Sidney Alumni Association is directly involved in the restoration of the Pleasant Street School. My initial reaction to this notion was to presume that such an undertaking would be far too large for an organization like ours to consider. However, as a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors since its official inception two years ago, I have been part of the discussion on this topic from the beginning and quite honestly, based on some recent developments, my opinion has totally reversed within the last six months. With the goal in mind of giving everyone enough information to formulate a factual opinion, below you will find some of my insights into this project as well as a brief history of the situation and a rough outline of exactly what is underway.

Until recently, it was only a dream of the Alumni Association to someday see the Pleasant Street School reclaimed. Since being retired by the school district, the building, which was constructed from 1891 to 1892, has been bought and sold several. times with just as many plans for its use. For one reason or another, each of those plans was abandoned and as a result, the building has remained empty and it has received insufficient long-term repairs to keep it protected from the elements. Very few unrestored structures of this type from that time period remain standing in the U.S. today and it is becoming obvious that if something isn't done for this one soon, there is going to be one less! As a matter of fact, the county is about to take over this property for nonpayment of back. taxes and may have even done so by the time you read this article. That will mean one of two things by mid year... either someone else will buy it from the county for the amount of taxes due and it will continue to deteriorate or it will meet its demise for the value of the land, the old bricks and whatever else is salvageable.

Judging by the response to a recent request in both Reflections and The Tri-Town News for ideas on how the school building might be used, alumni and citizens alike have overwhelmingly indicated that they want to see it saved and occupied once again. The resurgence of interest sparked by the success of the expanded Alumni Weekends over the last four summers has also helped focus the attention of alumni on the school, especially those who live out of town and don't see it every day. But, it wasn't until we learned some months ago that the current owner (for his own financial reasons) was looking to donate this property to a non-profit organization that the board realized it had suddenly been presented with a unique opportunity to preserve this precious part of Sidney's landscape. For all intents and purposes, if we were ever going to be able to accomplish something like this, this chance could not be passed up.

As you can imagine, the total cost of restoring the Pleasant Street School will be extensive but, as you read the rest of this article, I ask that you concentrate on three things... first; though some business decisions will be required, view this as a labor of love that will be an ever evolving process under the guidance of a volunteer team of alumni and local business and community members. Second; put off for now the natural tendency to let the cost of such a project automatically eliminate it from your thought process... for a building such as this, there are preservation monies available from any number of private and public sources and these will be developed as part of the project's evolution. Third; what is your preference for the space at the end of Liberty Street... a vacant lot or this grand old red brick building with its castle-like turrets housing an antique mall, Oneonta or Delhi State or University at Binghamton extension classrooms, a concert or banquet hall, a movie theater, a museum, a cultural center or any combination of these and more? There is really no limit to the possibilities!

The Alumni Board of Directors has sought the advice of a Program Construction Manager (PCM) in Delaware County whose company has many years of experience restoring old buildings. This advice includes the breaking down of such a project into three basic accomplishable stages. (1) The investigation stage where the usability of the building is determined by the performance of such activities as an asbestos evaluation and a structural analysis and then, based on the findings, a plan is presented on how to stabilize the building by properly supporting it and sealing it from the elements. (2) The stabilization stage where the actual work to save the structure from further deterioration takes place. (3) The renovation stage where the building will be brought back to its original splendor, as well as the eventual determination of what and who will reside there.

At its April 5th meeting, the board voted unanimously to pursue the investigation stage of the project as described above. Since the costs involved are somewhat fixed and therefore not competitive, the board has accepted the proposal covering this stage as submitted by the PCM mentioned above and approved him to proceed as soon as possible. There are a couple reasons for swift action, not the least of which is the tour that some of us took through the building in January, indicating that it may not have another winter left in it... and I do mean quite literally, in it! The other reason is the pending tax action also mentioned above.

Lest anyone think that a group of over exuberant alumni is getting a little bit ahead of itself, be assured that our decision was based on several very rational conditions which are clearly stated in the minutes of the meeting but for the sake of time I'm not going to itemize here. Suffice to say, the, decision was the result of months of evaluation by the Finance Committee, a lengthy discussion at two board meetings, active involvement by the PCM as well as legal consultation on pertinent issues.

In closing, the Pleasant Street School is in dire distress and it will soon cease to exist if something isn't done now. Though the Alumni Association doesn't necessarily see itself as the ultimate owner/manager of the building, it has stepped forward to act as a catalyst to organize and give direction to a project to determine if it can honestly be saved and how to accomplish it. Since the property itself would be donated, the Board of Directors has agreed to take on the initial investment required to complete the investigation portion of the project. Because of the inherent risk that the PCM may find the building cannot be saved at a reasonable cost, effectively spelling the end of the project, the required amount will be raised by dedicated independent donations only and at the time this article was written, the board feels it already has sufficient commitments to cover it.

I hope you agree that this is a great way to give something back to the community that has supplied us with one of the best small town public school educations anywhere and I leave you with this thought... "Even the longest journey starts with the first step."