Move planned for St. George schoolhouse (7/16/09)

Group raising funds for restoration effort

July 16, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A nonprofit is working to find a new home for St. George’s one-room schoolhouse.

 


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Lori Ring poses amid the dusty old desks inside St. George’s historic one-room schoolhouse.

The structure will be moved to one of three sites near the Town Center, according to Lori Ring, president of the St. George Historical & Conservation Trust.

Members of the organization met Monday and mulled which site was best. They decided to leave their options open for now.

“We’re taking little baby steps,” Ring said.

The sites are clustered on the west side of Vermont 2A near St. George Town Center, the town’s lone municipal building. Each parcel is owned by the town, which Ring said has agreed to donate the land.

The schoolhouse, built in 1852, currently sits in a small clearing, less than a half-mile north of Town Center. It served as a school for more than a century and was used for town functions until the 1980s.

But the building had since sat vacant and fallen into disrepair. The schoolhouse’s red and white paint is peeling and the overhanging branches of an elder tree threatened the roof.

In recent years, residents and town officials began talking about what might be done to save the schoolhouse. The Historical & Conservation Trust was formed last year.

The nonprofit has over the past several months overseen some work in and around the building. The branches were removed and the interior was partially cleaned up.

A visit to the schoolhouse reveals a light-filled space filled with vintage furniture, including some student desks crafted of iron and wood apparently dating back to the late 1800s.

Ducts for a modern heating system run through the room, although a hole in the ceiling provides evidence that a woodstove once warmed teachers and students. The maple floor, though dusty and warped, remains intact.

But the current location on a small, overgrown lot is impractical because there is not enough space for parking or a septic system. A report by a consultant released last year estimated it would cost $199,258 to restore the building and another $47,000 to move it.

The St. George Historical & Conservation Trust has raised more than $3,500 to pay for the work with a mass mailing and a garage sale. Town voters pledged to chip in $10,000 at Town Meeting last March. Ring said other fund-raising efforts are under way.

The planned move and restoration of the schoolhouse is of course an effort to maintain part of St. George’s history. But it also has a practical side, providing space for civic and education activities in a town too small to take such amenities for granted.

Ring acknowledged that some have wondered if it would be more cost-efficient to knock the schoolhouse down and start from scratch.

“Our answer was to just take it back to being a usable building for the town like it used to be, whether it is for town meeting or after-school programs,” she said. “In our town, we don’t have much.”

The St. George Historic & Conservation Trust is seeking donations to move and restore the schoolhouse. Send checks to SGH&CT, 715 Willow Brook Lane, St. George, Vt. 05495.