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Raze or preserve? An Old School debate

By APRIL HELMS Reporter Published: April 5, 2017 12:00 AM
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TWINSBURG -- Residents spoke for and against demolishing the city-owned Old School on Darrow Road at Council's March 28 meeting.

While some lauded Council for its unanimous decision to obtain estimates for razing the structure, which has been vacant since 2012, others said they are in the process of nominating the structure for historical designation.

Resident Dan Sypen said that he had many fond memories of attending the Old School, but believes it should be demolished.

"For me, the legacy of that building is as a school, and it will never be that again," Sypen said. "Twinsburg has changed a lot over those 30-plus years I've lived in the community, and I believe that is a good thing. I'm here tonight as a proponent of saying goodbye to that building and laying the ground for this city's future."

A recent poll at www.twinsburgbulletin.com, which asked "Are you in favor of keeping the Old School, or seeing it torn down in favor of downtown redevelopment plans?" had 372 responses as of April 3, with an overwhelming 93 percent voting to tear it down.

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Sypen said March 28 that those who remembered attending the school will eventually disappear, but the city's decision on what to do with the area -- and specifically the 16 acres around the Old School property -- will have a lasting impact.

At-Large Councilor Bill Furey said initial estimates to renovate the 40,000-square-foot structure, which includes the removal of asbestos at the property, ran "from $5 million to $9 million" about four years ago. The city has applied for a Brownfield grant to assist with the asbestos removal cost (about $200,000 of the $250,000 cost), a requirement for the structure whether it stands or is torn down, city officials have said. Furey said in an earlier interview that demolition costs could range between $500,000 and $1 million, adding that these were merely rough estimates.

Resident Laurie Facsina said she received a letter from the Ohio Historical Society, stating that the Old School qualifies for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in two categories "as evidence of its prominence" in Twinsburg's history.

"I'm in the process of mailing out the formal nomination form as we speak," she said. "I've uncovered a wellspring of information that not only is the building of historic prominence but the ground it was built on is of equal historic importance."

According to a March 7 letter Facsina received from Ohio History Connection, the Old School "appears to qualify for nomination to the National Register for significance under ... a property associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.... It also appears to be eligible ... as a representative example of an educational building designed by the architectural firm of Harpster & Bliss."

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Resident Michael Turle, who has spoken in favor of restoring the Old School for community purposes, said that he and other supporters would like an opportunity to make a presentation on the Old School before Council.

"With all the information our committee has recently uncovered about Twinsburg Old School, with the possible listing on the National Historic Register, the incredible amount of money that will be available to renovate this, that we can do this at very little cost to the residents, I hope that we can get our spot on the agenda," Turle said.

Mayor Ted Yates said Turle could make the request through the mayor's office.

Resident Dwayne Smith said he would welcome a presentation from those interested in preserving the structure, but applauded Council "for taking a hard look at moving forward on bids."

"What I care about is the city," Smith said. "It's not a matter of just keeping the old school or tearing down the old school, it's a matter of what is feasible for the city. To me, it's not the first school. It's not. It's not even the second school that was in town. I understand there is sentimental value attached to this building and I admire their passion. But I keep hearing 'we." 'We the citizens want to keep the school.' I'm not tied to the school, I just want to see progress."

The Old School was constructed in 1921. The building was expanded in 1952 and closed as a public school building in 1992. The structure has never had any type of official historic designation.

Before Daimler Chrysler (in conjunction with Kent State University) opened the United Auto Workers Training Center in 1995, some minor fixes were made to the facility. The building also served as Kent State University's Geauga Campus until 2012. The structure has remained unoccupied since.

The city has not offered a timeline for razing the building and expects to hear about the grant by fall.

Email: ahelms@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9423

Twitter: @twinsburgohio

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