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Future of old East Junior High remains uncertain

May 23, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Workers will soon begin to tear out the asbestos in the 62-year-old former East Junior High School, but its owners aren't saying if that means the eventual demolition of the East Main Street building that was home to generations of local high school students.

Sheran White, spokesman for Summit Health, which bought the school at auction in 1990 for $500,000, said there are no definite plans to renovate or raze the building. She said the asbestos has to be removed no matter what happens to the building.

Summit Health owns Chambersburg Hospital and Waynesboro Hospital, across East Main Street from the old school.

In 1996, officials at Waynesboro Hospital and Menno Haven Inc. in Chambersburg discussed converting the building into 65 affordable housing units for seniors, a project they hoped would have been completed this year. A study at the time showed a need for such a facility in Waynesboro.

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But the idea was abandoned after the death of Lew Leaman in 1997. Leaman, then president of Menno Haven, was the force behind the renovation project.

More recently, the Waynesboro Area School Board briefly discussed buying back the building in January and fixing it up for school use once again. The idea was dropped when it was learned that the selling price would be $1.5 million, Schools Superintendent Robert Mesaros said at the time.

Some school board members objected to the idea, saying it would cost more to bring the old building up to modern school standards than to build a new one.

Waynesboro Mayor Louis Barlup, 72, served as principal of Waynesboro Area Senior High School from 1964 to 1990. He said construction on the old school began in 1935 and was finished in 1937 at a cost of $150,000. It replaced a high school building on the corner of South Potomac Street and Snider Avenue. That building was torn down long ago, Barlup said.

The first freshman class began school there in September 1937 and graduated in 1941.

The building ceased to be used as a school in 1962, when the current Waynesboro Area Senior High School opened on a hill behind it. The old building became East Junior High School that same year. Barlup served as its principal until 1964.

The school board closed the building for good in 1989, and it has been empty ever since except for occasional use as a haunted house by students on Halloween.

White said the building has been sealed.

Barlup said he is one of many residents who would hate to see it torn down.

"I feel it would be a shame, I really do," he said. "It has served the Waynesboro community as a center for musical productions, exciting sports events and special affairs in connection with the educational process for many years."

Even standing abandoned, it is an impressive reminder of Waynesboro's past, he said. "It's an awesome design with a two-story center section flanked by two one-story wings housing an auditorium on side and a gym on the other."

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