N.Y. Town Debates Future of 1922 School
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Aug. 11, 2009
A historic middle school in upstate New York will no longer welcome students if voters approve the construction of a new school nearby.
In June, the Corning-Painted Post School Board voted to go forward with a $174 million plan that calls for a new middle school. If approved, students would move out of the Corning Free Academy, a Romanesque Revival structure built in 1922 under the direction of glass designer Frederick Carder.
The historic brick-and-terra-cotta academy building would become administrative offices, according to school district spokesman Bill Cameron. "We made a commitment that no building would be abandoned," he says. "The district learned lessons many years ago that it leaves a sour taste in the community to abandon a building."
Some neighbors are skeptical of the plan, citing alterations the school district has made to other historic schools. The Southside Neighborhood Association points to Painted Post High School, which school district staff uses for offices.
"They basically wrecked it. They made changes, built offices and [added] storage rooms," says Peetie Dimitroff, the association's president.
Peetie's husband, Tom Dimitroff, chairman of Corning's historic preservation commission, points to alterations the school district has already made at Corning Free Academy, where he taught for 35 years. "The building has been damaged inside by thoughtless change," he says. An original balcony in the auditorium, for instance, was removed for a computer lab.
Bill Cameron says the district will work with the state historic preservation office before further changes are made to any schools.
If voters approve the plan in December, Cameron says, 125 school district employees will move into the Corning Free Academy, and the village of Painted Post will likely take over its current office building.
In the meantime, this month the district superintendent plans to launch a blog so people can communicate with him directly.
"When you close buildings, the people who live in affected communities expect answers and an opportunity to discuss the impact. That will happen," Superintendent Michael Ginalski said in a July 30 statement.
The first meeting to discuss the district's plan will be held next week, and voters will decide on the school's future on Dec. 15, 2009. If the plan passes, the new school will open in 2014.
Corning Free Academy "is historically and architecturally important," Peetie Dimitroff says. "It was well designed as a school and it really should be retained as a school. It's a very important anchor in the neighborhood."
Read more about Historic Neighborhood Schools, listed as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2000.
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