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Supporters try to save old school

June 08, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Members of the Waynesboro Historical Society said Tuesday they hope to rally area residents to join the fight to save the old East Junior High School building from demolition.

James Smith and Andrea Struble of the society's preservation committee are leading the effort to stop Summit Health, Inc., owner of Waynesboro Hospital and the old school building, to reconsider its decision to raze the 60-year-old structure. The hospital is on the other side of the street from the school building in the 500 block of East Main Street.

The old building conjures up school-day memories for many local residents, said Tammy Wetzel, 23, a member of the final class before the Waynesboro Area School District closed the building in 1989. At the time it was serving grades seven through nine, Wetzel said.

The school board shifted the ninth grade class to the high school in 1990 and established a sixth to eighth grade program the same year. That year the hospital bought the East Junior High building at auction for $500,000.

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"We all liked going to school here," Wetzel said. "We didn't think anything was wrong with the building. I can remember where my classes were," she said pointing to windows in the two-story building.

"It's sad to see this building torn down when it could be used for a school once more."

Wetzel, who graduated this year from Shippensburg University with a history degree, has a summer intern job with the historical society.

The hospital plans some kind of health-care related use for the land, but nothing more specific has been decided, spokeswoman Sheran White said.

The demolition is set for early July.

White said the hospital plans to meet with historical society members to discuss their concerns and explain why the building must be demolished. "It's in a deplorable condition," she said. "Rehabilitation is not an option."

The school was built by the Works Progress Administration - a New Deal program - between 1935 and 1937, Smith said.

It was used as a high school until 1962, when the current Waynesboro Area Senior High School opened. It became a junior high after that.

"This is a beautiful example of classical revival architecture," he said.

Smith said the historical society has written to Summit health officials asking that they reconsider the demolition. "We haven't received a reply yet," he said.

The best hope of saving the building may lie in a grass-roots effort by residents, he said. "We have to find people willing to stand up and say that this building is more important to the cultural health of this town standing than it will be torn down."

Struble, a Waynesboro resident for nine years, said Summit Health has "every legal right to tear the building down, but it has no moral right to do it. I can't believe they will do this to Waynesboro."

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