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Rally held to save landmark school

July 09, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - One by one, supporters of East Junior High School stood outside the building Friday night and tried to imagine why anyone would want to tear down the well-known landmark.

"To tear this down is just criminal," Roy Struble said during a rally to save the building.

Although Arnie Potter said he didn't like school, there is no doubt that the 64-year-old building is a vital part of town. Scores of Waynesboro residents attended the school, and it is one of the focal points of town because it can be seen from around the community, residents say.

Its presence is enriched by its classic architecture, residents said.

The huge, stately building is set off with large columns in the front and is flanked by two wings that spread over its rolling lawn.

"It's the most beautiful building in Waynesboro," said Potter, who graduated in 1947.

Potter was one of about 60 area residents who came to the rally outside the school to show community concern for the building. Summit Health, the owner of the school building and Waynesboro Hospital across the street, said the building will be torn down this month.

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No decision has been made about what to do with the property, although it could become a new health care facility, according to Summit Health spokeswoman Sheran White.

The building was a high school until 1962, and later became East Junior High School. It was closed in 1989.

People who came to the rally signed a petition, and pinned small yellow ribbons to their clothing to express their support for the school. Some waved bright yellow signs that read "Save East" to passing motorists.

Later in the evening, the group was planning to have a toast in honor of the school. Champagne glasses were lined up on the tailgate of a truck, ready to be filled with sparkling apple cider, said Andrea Struble, publicity chairwoman of the Waynesboro Historical Society.

The historical society has collected several hundred signatures from people who support saving the building, and the petitions will be given to the hospital's board of directors in hopes of changing their minds about their plans for the building, Struble said.

But the effort to save the old school is facing an uphill battle.

The historical society wanted the hospital to stay the demolition for at least 90 days while other ways of using the building are explored.

Last Tuesday, the historical society received a letter from Summit Health officials, who said they could not delay the demolition due to economic reasons, Struble said.

A crane has already been moved onto the property, and a tall chain link fence has been put up around the building, Struble said.

Hospital officials could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Although parts of the exterior need work, the building is sturdy and was built on a "bed of concrete," residents said.

The school could be turned into a mixed use facility that could include a performing arts center and professional offices, Struble said.

Some estimates to renovate the building have been as high as $7 million, but Struble said it can be done for half of that.

"Obviously, we feel it's worth the effort. We believe the hospital didn't understand the extent of the community's feelings about the building," she said.

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