Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.
Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.
By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.
1998 – Hazleton High School, Luzerne County
Hazleton High School, affectionately known as “The Castle on the Hill” to local residents, is one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks. Built in 1926 in the collegiate Gothic style with elaborate medieval-=style towers and concrete parapets, the building was later converted for use as a junior high school. Despite its continued use, the school suffered from years of deferred maintenance. Serious structural problems resulted from water penetration; outdated heating and cooling systems resulted in broken pipes that damaged the wood floors. When a section of the concrete parapet above the building’s main entrance fell and struct a parent, the school board voted to demolish the historic school.
With vocal opposition from the community and support by a mayor who refused to issue a demolition permit, local residents rallied and called for funding to repair and rehabilitate the building. Following changes in the composition of the school board, claims that the building was beyond repair were questioned and its condition was reassessed. When the building was listed in the Pennsylvania At Risk in 1998, the board was divided, and the community was polarized over the issue; many saw preservation as counter to the school’s need for improved technology and other upgrades to the educational curriculum. After much public debate, the school board voted in May of 2004 to renovate the building for use as an elementary and middle school rather than demolish it. Renovation of the school occurred relatively quickly, with the new Hazleton Elementary/Middle School opening in the old High School in 2007.
During this renovation, the auditorium was stabilized but not rehabilitated. Members of the community worked to preserve the auditorium and raise funds for its rehabilitation. Using a variety of funding sources including grants, private donations, and a large contribution from the school district, the auditorium was fitted with new seating and reproduction aisle standards, digital theater lighting, theater rigging, audio and visual systems and more, and opened as the Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center in 2011. The facility, which is owned by the school district and leased to a nonprofit organization that operates the auditorium, received a preservation award in 2012.
To support the Wiltsie Performing Arts Center at the Hazleton School, please visit www.wiltsiecenter.org.
In 1998, Preservation Pennsylvania dedicated its entire At Risk list to endangered schools. With help from Arthur Ziegler at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, Preservation Pennsylvania brought attention to the fact that the Pennsylvania Depart of Education’s policies for reimbursement encouraged the construction of new schools over the continued use and preservation of existing and historic schools and began working to improve the situation.
Since 1998, Preservation Pennsylvania has continued to focus on the school issue, working with the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other partners to keep the issue of retaining historical school buildings as schools in the forefront and to encourage the smart siting of new schools in locations where at least a portion of students can walk or bike to school. Preservation Pennsylvania just completed a policy recommendation on Capital Maintenance Reimbursement and the Joint Use of Community-Centered Schools in Pennsylvania. The Community-Centered Schools page on our website has the most up-to-date resources and success stories. [/sws_grey_box]