Martinsburg City Council reverses panel's decision on John Street School building

Seven members vote unanimously to overturn the city Historic Preservation Review Commission's decision to deny razing request

November 10, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • The historic John Street School in Martinsburg, W.Va., which once housed Berkeley County Magistrate Court, is being eyed for demolition by its owner, the archdiocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Martinsburg City Council on Thursday revived the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston's bid to raze the century-old John Street School building in Martinsburg.

The seven-member council voted unanimously to overturn the city Historic Preservation Review Commission's decision to deny the request last month.

"I'm for history," Ward 2 Councilman Richard Yauger said. "It would be nice if it were in good condition to stay, but it is not."

The council's decision to reverse the commission's 3-1 vote to deny the demolition still can be appealed to Berkeley County Circuit Court within the next 30 days, city officials said.

John L. Reardon, the diocese's director of buildings and properties, told the council Thursday that the church would need to spend more than $1 million to make the school building habitable again.

Ward 4 Councilman Roger Lewis asked Reardon for assurance that the demolished site would not be left as an eyesore.  

Reardon responded by saying the property would be sodded and maintained in accordance with city code, which requires grass to cover the demolition site.

Reardon, who previously noted the building has mold infestations, said the structure was deemed a "biohazard" and was not suitable for people to enter.

As for the future of the property, Reardon said "there's nothing set in stone," but suggested a parking lot, church addition or parish hall could be among possible options to be considered in the future.

The building at 120 W. John St. was auctioned off by Berkeley County in 2007, which Reardon said appeared to indicate the community abandoned it.  

In accordance with state law, the building, which once housed the county's magistrate court system, was declared surplus property after the county opened its new judicial center at 380 W. South St.

Reardon said the church purchased the property in the auction for the land and never intended to do anything with the school building itself.

Among those who joined Reardon for the meeting Thursday night were Berkeley County Councilman Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci and Martinsburg attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III. Aside from Reardon, no one petitioned the council about the proposed demolition and no one from the Historic Preservation Review Commission attended the meeting.

After leaving the council chambers, Reardon said the diocese would like to demolish the school building as soon as possible.  

Commission members who voted against demolition noted the school's architectural and historic significance for the city. They also noted the historic Shenandoah Hotel and Baltimore and Ohio hotel-train station buildings were restored despite being in deteriorated condition.

The Herald-Mail Articles